Why Your Minority Language Matters

18 basalt formationI recently read an amazing book: The Rational Optimist, by Matt Ridley.  The book is mainly about how awesome the future is going to be and why there’s no need to be so pessimistic about everything.

In general I liked what he had to say and how he put ideas together, and the book did manage to give me an optimistic view from the future.   (Unbeknownst to me, I  had a pretty negative view of the future, probably partly genetic, partly media-based.)

Two specific parts of his book, about city-living and demography, caught my eye and made me think of minority languages and their future.


“In 2008 for the first time more than half the people in the world lived in cities.  …     By 2025 it looks as if there will be five billion people living in cities (and rural populations will actually be falling fast), and there will be eight cities with more than twenty million people each: Tokyo, Mumbai, Delhi, Dhaka, Sao Paolo, Mexico City, New York, and Calcutta.  As far as the planet is concerned, this is good news because city dwellers take up less space, use less energy, and have less impact on natural ecosystems than country dwellers.  The world’s cities already contain half the world’s people, but they occupy less than 3 per cent of the world’s land area.  ‘Urban sprawl’ may disgust some American environmentalists, but on a global scale, the very opposite is happening: as villages empty, people are living in denser and denser anthills” (Ridley 189-190).


According to Ridley’s demographic stats, we aren’t in the population crisis that I grew up thinking that we are in.

“As the environmentalist Steward Brand puts it, ‘most environmentalists still haven’t got the word.  Worldwide, birth-rates are in a free fall . . . On every part of every continent and in every culture (even Mormon), birth rates are headed down.  They reach replacement level and keep on dropping.’  This is happening despite people living longer and thus swelling the ranks of the world population for longer, and despite the fact that babies are no longer dying as frequently as they did in the early twentieth century.  Population growth is slowing even as death rates are falling” (Ridley 205).

So if more and more people are moving to cities all over the world, and at the same time birth rates are falling fast, then regional languages, pronunciations, dialects will go by the wayside.  That is very sad.

In 1996 there were 6,703 living languages, but many of these are endangered languages.  More interesting factoids and charts here:

A language becomes “extinct” if it has no speakers and is not in current use.  “Dead” languages are still known and sometimes used in written form but are not used in everyday communication.

Your language matters because you speak it.  Your language especially matters if it’s not a top language of the world.

Top 20 languages of the world, stolen from this site:

1. Mandarin Chinese (1,052m)
2. English (508m)
3. Hindi (487m)
4. Spanish (417m)
5. Russian (277m)
6. Bengali (211m)
7. Portugese (191m)
8. German (128m)
9. French (128m)
10. Japanese (126m)
11. Urdu (104m)
12. Korean (78m)
13. Wu Chinese (77m)
14. Javanese (76m)
15. Telugu (75m)
16. Tamil (74m)
17. Yue Chinese / Cantonese (71m)
18. Marathi (71m)
19. Vietnamese (68m)
20. Turkish (61m)


On a random note, I had an interesting conversation with someone at camp.  Toward the end, she said something in a regional accent.  I said, “Oh that’s right, I forgot you’re from Szeged.  But you don’t really speak like that anymore.”

She answered, “Yeah, it wasn’t really accepted in school.”

That is the opposite of what should be happening.  Regional dialects and accents need to be encouraged and supported; if not, they will be lost forever.


So, to sum up my whirlwind, you need to speak your language to your kids, especially if you speak a regional dialect, and especially and if it’s a minority language.

Let’s not let the urbanization of the world and the falling birth-rates defeat the wonderful linguistic diversity that we still enjoy.

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One Response to “Why Your Minority Language Matters”

  1. Sasi August 21, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    Woohoo! BRAVO!

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