Abram de Swaan. Endangered Languages. Sociolinguistic sentimentalism. European Review, Fall 2004.

The movement to protect threatened languages from extinction is based on misleading metaphors and false sentiment. Of course, linguists should do their utmost to document languages that are in danger of being entirely abandoned. But whether speakers of such languages should continue to use them or adopt more current languages is a decision no outsider can make for them.

Threatened languages are not like threatened species: they do not die out but are abandoned by those who used to speak them. Small language communities do not necessarily add to cultural diversity, they may isolate their speakers from all cultural alternatives, they may be oppressive and restrictive.

The adoption of more current languages may increase the chances of education and employment. The many social dilemmas facing small language communities can only be understood within the encompassing anthropological context. Read more…