The importance of a language

  • 2001-05-03
  • Memo Merlino
Recent history tells us that the Soviet Union tried to impose the use of Russian on all its subjects, and by doing so attempted to cause the extinction of many languages. But in the case of the Baltic peoples, and others, their languages became a symbol of resistance.

The Russian language is a beautiful one, enriched by many writers and philosophers. But the political elimination of languages by a totalitarian regime is insidious, because a language is representative of a unique culture.

Languages have been disappearing from the face of the earth as fast as animal species over the last century, and the causes are attributable to the arrogance and chauvinism of "advanced" societies.

Languages disappear as the populations speaking such languages are absorbed into a labor force that has no interest in preserving unique languages, which are deemed useless. Animal species disappear because the pressure to convert forests to farmland is progressively becoming more intense.

Developed societies are convinced that controlling nature and exploiting it is beneficial for creating a more comfortable environment for humanity. In this argument, the extinction of both languages and species is a necessary price to pay.

The globalization of business, while bringing economic advantages to many, is more like a stampede to improve the standard of living of millions regardless of the ability to sustain such an effort.

Collectively, humanity cannot go backward to the life of 50 years ago. It must go forward. But while we see the Americas creating a common market of 800 million people and the U.S. rejecting the Kyoto protocol, we should question the outcome of such policies.

The American Indian languages and cultures of North, Central and South America have virtually disappeared, or are on their way to extinction, as are many species of animal because of deforestation.

In Europe dialects and thinly spoken languages are also disappearing. Many European languages suffer from bastardization by adopting American and British English words in their daily use, mostly because there is a certain level of laziness on the part of the media in each European country in researching and coining appropriate corresponding terms.

Linguistic specialists are not consulted, and the general public is passive about this issue.

Both languages and species that become extinct diminish the diversity of culture and fauna that allows us to maintain a link to our past. What we call primitive societies that still survive to this day could teach advanced societies about our continuing abuse of nature.

It would be sad if during the third millennium humanity was left with only a few major languages and domesticated animals.