Why minor languages don't necessarily lose ground to larger ones

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The cannibalistic theory of languages (larger languages destroy smaller languages by being more useful, and eventually the world will be dominated by a single one) has always been too simple, as it does nothing to explain the resurgence of such languages as Welsh, Manx, Cornish, Basque, and pretty much every minor language in relatively safe and prosperous countries where a group of people is interested in maintaining them. The idea that larger languages simply destroy smaller ones only really takes place when there is either active suppression of a language, or when economic disparity is so great that speakers of one language have little choice but to leave the region where they grew up in order to make any real money. Remove this though, and there is no reason for a language to not thrive.

The reason this subject is being brought up again is because of this article, on a study showing that bilingualism is the key to keeping smaller languages alive. The cannibalistic theory also fails in that it works on the assumption that a single language is the norm, when this is not true at all.

To read the paper itself (9 pages), see here.

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