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Language Consolidation

A good deal has been written and is being written on the topic of language death. Linguists and anthropologists don’t like the idea though they are hard pressed to present any reasons for their dislike. I suppose it emerges from the dislike of death itself and the implication that a culture is dying if not the peope speaking the language themselves.

Another way of looking at language death, however, is the way the commercial world looks at the death of companies: language consolidation. The native languages around the world are being consolidated, not in the usual sense of that word, but in the financial sense that they are being replaced by larger entities that must grow larger and larger.

In North American, for example, the hundreds of Native American languages are being consolidated into English and Spanish with a bit of French tossed into the mix. In France, the Celtic languages to the south are being replaced by French. The result of language death is the same as consolidation in the world of business where small businesses die out so that large businesses can grow larger.

The great difference between commercial and linguistic consolodation is that in the commercial world, small businesses reappear. Once a corporation reaches a certain size, it loses interest in small niche markets and new, small businesses appear to service them.

The beer industry is a prime example. As the breweries of the last century grew and put smaller breweries out of business, they were forced to produce beers of universal appeal, which is to say bland, inoffensive tasting beers. Drinkers with a taste for beer were ignored because the larger breweries thought them too small a minority to cater to. So, microbreweries began to appear to cater to that minority on a local level.

This does not happen in the linguistic world. Once a language is gone, it is gone forever and no other language will ever arise to take its place. Language consolidation is permanent. This means that the number of languages in the world will continue to dwindle but the number of people speaking the surviving languages will continue to increase. Attempts to preserve the smaller languages, like attempts to preserve small businesses in competition with large corporations, are doomed at the outset to failure.

One Response to “Language Consolidation”

  1. Skinem Says:

    I agree with your article and that attempts to prevent the deaths of language are futile.
    However, I understand the dislike and sadness of their passing.
    As a young man I lived on and near the Yakima Indian Reservation Washington State. During the mid and late ’70s I believe there were still between 15-20 dialects still actively spoken on the rez. The last figures I saw (roughly 5 years ago) was that there were only 7 different dialects still spoken with the majority of those expected to disappear within 10 years.
    To many of the older people on the rez this is tragic in the sense that one of the purely identifying characteristics of them as a people is disappearing. The a losing a strong link to their past and heritage.
    I applaud the efforts made to record the languages before they disappear.

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