F&M Stories

Saving Endangered Languages from Going Extinct

As he took the stage, the speaker urged the Franklin & Marshall College audience to say "Kap-la-ye!" and then to repeat the words to the person seated next to them.

"You have all just greeted each other in the very endangered Koros language of India," said K. David Harrison, associate professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College. He spoke at the Feb. 23 Common Hour, a community discussion that occurs every Thursday classes are in session during the semester.

"Just by uttering that word here, in this auditorium, you've totally doubled or tripled the number of people who have ever spoken this language," he said. "It's a very small language."

Harrison, who is director of research at the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, talked on the topic, "What Happens When Languages Die? Cultural Survival Without a Tongue," in which he says the world's more than 7,000 languages are in decline with about half predicted to vanish by century's end, before they are recorded or documented.

Language extinction leads to intellectual impoverishment in all fields of science and culture, according to Harrison. However, efforts underway to sustain, value and revitalize linguistic diversity in indigenous communities worldwide may help reverse the process, he said.

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