Are dying languages worth saving?
The last question was about whether it is necessary or desirable for the Welsh government to spend time and significant amounts of money on translating information into Welsh, providing interpreters and teaching Welsh in schools, when it is spoken by only a small proportion of people living in Wales.
The questioner was booed when he asked the question, and the panel unanimously (perhaps running scared) said that it was both necessary and desirable (although a substantial part of the audience later disagreed when they voted on it).
I had a look for some information on this, and found an article on the BBC website –http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11304255 It’s from 2010, but still interesting reading.
The Foundation for Endangered Languages held a conference in Camarthen, West Wales, appropriately enough to discuss the facts that although there are over 6000 languages spoken worldwide, up to 1000 of these are only spoken by a handful of people – and 25 languages are lost every year.
Samuel Johnson said ‘language is the dress of thought’ – if you lose the language, you lose the knowledge it expresses, and also individualism and identity.
Others say this is nonsense – it’s about cultural change, how do we ever progress if we have a romantic desire to cling on to the past, to things that were once useful but are now irrelevant. We should focus on teaching people useful languages like Chinese Mandarin, Spanish and English.
I can’t make up my mind on this. Part of me loves the idea that we don’t just do things because of their usefulness, and I think the past matters – not just romantically, but because of what we can learn from it. The other part thinks that when resources are limited and need is great, we should spend money where it will do most good – and if the language hadn’t progressed, we would still be speaking Anglo Saxon, or Middle English – which were surely of their time and not relevant for now (much as I love Chaucer!)
What do you think? Do add your comments below.
Tess Wright, Chief Executive
image credit: Pontus Edenberg / www.edenberg.com