Where Languages Thrive And/Or Die

The BBC on the linguistic diversity of New York, a “graveyard for languages”:

“But why do languages die?

Communities can be wiped out through wars, disease or natural disasters, and take their languages with them when they go.

More commonly, though, people transition out of one mother tongue into another, either by choice or under duress, a process that linguists refer to as language shift.

Being one of the last speakers of a language is a lonely place to be – you may have no one to talk to, no way to write it down and all kinds of cultural and historical knowledge that does not translate easily into English, Spanish or another more dominant language.

Languages ebb and flow, some triumph for a while only to fade away.”

“Graveyard” seems overly harsh.  “Inevitable final resting place” might be better.  But the idea that linguists no longer travel through jungles or swamps looking for lost tribes, but rather just hop on the 7 Line to the outer boroughs, is fascinating.

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