Discussion: Languages

There's an old language joke that goes something like this:
What do you call a person who speaks multiple languages? A polyglot.
What do you call a person who speaks two languages? Bilingual.
What do you call a person who speaks only one language? An American.

Ok, so it's not very funny. But why do you suppose so few Americans speak another language other than English? Answer this question from your personal perspective and from a national perspective (i.e., looking at the global impact of speaking only one language).

We are all supposed to learn another language in high school, but then, most of us never get the chance to actually use it. Because our nation focuses so heavily on language homogeneity, there is no reason for us to use other languages in our day to day lives. When we visit other countries (and not too many of us do), we find that many people there also speak at least some English, and so we are never in a position where we MUST learn a language other than our native tongue. I think we could understand other cultures better if we were to focus more on keeping our knowledge of other languages alive throughout our adult lives.

Pick any language family and describe the location of its speakers. Next, find a language within that same language family and describe where it is located and explain its historical significance.

Speakers of the Altaic family of languages live in Asia and the Middle East. They range from Turkey and Azerbaijan in the west, across the "istans" on the other side of the Caspian Sea and then across norther China (Tibet) and Mongolia. There are other pockets of speakers in Siberia and western Russia (and possibly a couple in northern India, it's hard to tell on this map because some of the colors are so similar).

Turkish is a language in the Altaic family, and its primary speakers live in modern Turkey. Artifacts with Turkish inscriptions have been found in Mongolia from the 8th century AD. The Turkish language was carried to Anatolia (the location of modern Turkey) by Oguz Nomads of Turkestan in the 11th century AD who conquered the peninsula. They created the Ottoman Empire there which lasted until the 1920s.
Source: http://www.linguata.com/turkish/History_of_the_Turkish_language.html

Please view Phil Borges' 18-minute TED talk on Documenting our Endangered Cultures. Comment about what you learned from this clip.

There are as many stories to tell as there are people in this world. Language is one of the ways that we pass down information, beliefs and culture to the next generation. The uniformity that is being created by the globalization of culture is smothering these smaller pockets of culture and language into extinction.

In this week's text readings, Belgium, Switzerland, and Nigeria are three examples given of multilingual states (countries). Find a different country anywhere in the world that has multiple languages spoken and give its site and situation. How did that country come about having multiple languages? What is a positive feature of this country's multilingualism and a challenge the country faces with its language diversity?

Ghana: A tall, skinny country of central Africa on the Gulf of Guinea. Most of the country is flat with low hills in places. The southern third of the county is covered by hardwood forests, and the northern portion by a vast savanna.

There are 79 living languages in use within Ghana's borders. Although the official language of Ghana is English, less than 6% of the population speaks it fluently (although I found this percentage cited in a few places, I can't find a good source. About 10% of the population spoke English in the 1970s, and English is the official language of the educational system, of which there is a +70% enrollment rate ( http://www.tradingeconomics.com/ghana/total-enrollment-primary-percent-net-wb-data.html ), and so it does not make sense for the percentage of English speakers to have dropped as the percentage of children who are educated has increased). There are two major language families of Ghana: Gur in the north and Kwa in the south. The specific indigenous languages have an uncertain history, and each language is spoken in a limited region. The area is known for its rich gold supplies, and Portuguese, British, French, Spanish, Danish and Swedish traders all attempted to claim a piece of the area in order to cash in on this natural resource. Ghana was a British colony from the 1870s until 1957 when it was finally declared an independent nation. The new government declared English as the official language, and I think this was partially because of the large language diversity of the country - it would give everyone a common second language to communicate with, and thus avoid some misunderstandings within the country. The government endorses 9 different native languages, and publishes all of its official documents in all of these languages. I can just imagine what kind of logistics nightmare this COULD be within a bureaucratic system.
Sources: http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=ghana http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/history/

Other than what is mentioned in the video clip in question #3, find a language that is spoken anywhere in the world in an isolated geographical setting. Explain where the language is located, who speaks it, its origin, and any other information you'd like to toss in.

Tibetan is an area that is isolated from its neighbors by great uninhabited distances, deserts, and the tallest mountain range in the world. There is considerable isolation within this region as well. There are an estimated 200+ dialects spoken in this area, all originating from Old Tibetan, but have now diverged to the point that they are unintelligible to each other. These languages all share the same written alphabet, which connects them, even though they cannot speak to each other directly.

One of the main branches of the language is the Amdo language of northeastern Tibet. The inhabitants of this region are traditional Tibetans (Amdowa) as well as Han Chinese and Mongolians. Amdo is spoken by a majority of the inhabitants, regardless of ethnicity. The Amdo language is part of the Tibeto-Burman language family which originated in the Himalayan highlands. More research needs to be done before the interrelation between these languages can be determined. Early scholars included Chinese within this group, while modern scholars dispute this, for example. Some of the Tibetan dialects are tonal as is Chinese, but others are not (including Amdo).

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