When the focus of a language is on the past, parents will not raise their families in that language - causing a minority language to die out completely.
Aston has identified that seeing written text in a modern context helps prevent language loss.
The many ‘visions of life’ that come from the many thousands of languages still spoken by
humankind are rapidly being diminished. Experts predict that over the next 100 years nearly 90% of the worlds languages will be lost - consigned to the history books and squeezed out by globalisation, the advance of monolithic languages such as English and Mandarin, and the belief that to speak and think in a ‘minority’ language is somehow backward looking or old fashioned.
If humankind is to continue to prosper then we will need to develop creative solutions to
problems such as climate change, the inexorable growth of cities, and the imbalance of
trade and employment. The philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt once said that ‘Every language is like a window that gives a unique view of the world. When the window closes it is lost forever’.
Linguists at Aston University are working with language activists and communities to analyse developments in the field of minority languages and to observe the links between language and social change. In a world culture that becomes more uniform by the year, they firmly believe that diversity matters - and can help the world identify the creative solutions needed.
If a language only spoken in the Amazonian rainforest disappears, it might not seem
significant. But with the language a rich knowledge of medicine might disappear that
comes from a close relationship with nature. If a language such as Yiddish becomes restricted to few places or domains, then the philosophy and thinking, literature, art and music related to the speech community begins to perish.
No one is actively campaigning for languages to die, but sometimes well meaning policy makers can unwittingly aid the process. By using funding to promote ‘minority’ languages as part of a bygone era, for example, these languages are in danger of going the way of the steam train or the horse cart. They are seen by young people as lacking relevance, and whilst campaigns might help build an image which can be exploited by the tourism industry, the language itself might lose its status as a contemporary means of communication. Welsh is an example where a sizeable community has decided that their language matters and has relevance to today. This commitment, coupled with legislation has made Welsh central to the regeneration of Wales.
Aston researchers believe that advertising, music and the arts are some of the channels
which enable languages to be seen in the public domain and can help to create contemporary bilingual communities. Researchers, language activists and policy makers need to find ways to promote smaller languages, for example by making more effective use of the Internet.
At Aston we are firm in our view that creativity offers the best solution to the problems of
humankind. And we know that creativity is unlikely to flourish if humankind is monolingual,
homogenous and alike in every way. For more information visit the School of Languages & Social Sciences' research webpages or download issue 1 of Aston Advances.