What can you learn about a person just from their language?
Is language a key component of… identity?
What happens when a language dies?


In the world today exist six languages of Celtic origin. These are divided into two classes: Brythonic and Goedelic.

Brythonic: Welsh, Breton, Cornish
Goedelic: Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Manx

Of the following only the Welsh language is not considered endangered. This point brings me to the debate topic. What if anything should be done to preserve endangered languages?

Supporters of preservation argue that the loss of languages represents a loss of identity and a reduction in linguistic diversity. They believe that when a language dies generations of human knowledge and thinking dies with it. Opponents however argue that a reduction of languages is a good thing because communication, understanding and social advancement are facilitated when the people share a common language.

Welsh has evaded the same fate because the residents of Wales are compelled to learn the language. However, this can build up bitterness in students. They may not feel any attachment to the Welsh community and feel that another language would suit them better. 

My opinion is that Welsh is being perpetuated artificially rather than organically. The fact that many of the children must be forced to learn it when most of them favor English when speaking is troubling to me. That is the path to becoming a symbolic rather than a living language much like Latin for the Catholic Church.

I also don’t like the idea of saving languages just because they’re unique. People are not zoo animals or endangered species. They make their own decisions. As a society our duty is to ensure that decision is not the consequence of oppression.

Some of the supporting arguments can be, in my opinion, disturbing. How many of you have heard the statement, “These languages can tell us of medicines and plants that the Western world doesn’t know of.” That attitude just reeks of exploitation to me, just in a more subtle form.

I think the death of languages is more a troubling symptom of a larger problem than a tragic thing in and of itself. Usually it signifies the breakdown of a community. A language in a healthy community will perpetuate itself even when exposed to outside forces. The connection between generations will be maintained organically. Nothing compulsory need be introduced because language is just a tool that facilitates interaction and communication. When that tool fails it is disposed of. That is reality.

This is not the rant of an English nationalist. I love languages. I know English, German, and Spanish to varying degrees. I have also experienced language loss first-hand. My knowledge of German, a language I have known since birth, withered from lack of use. In the U.S. there was no community that encouraged it, so I lost much of it.

Some would say that losing German signifies a loss of my identity. But my identity is not concerned with any one language. My identity is concerned with people whether they speak English, German, Spanish, or any other language.

What do you have to say?