In my previous posting, based on the recent research of Paolo Caluzzi, I discussed the status of various minority languages in Brunei and suggested that loss of a language, something that is almost complete for Belait, is a pity.
But why should we care about language extinction? Surely, if everyone spoke the same language, wouldn't that enable us all to understand each other, with the result that all disputes could be resolved amicably?
Actually, no. As David Crystal points out in his book Language Death (CUP, 2000 − for a review, see here), many of the most brutal civil wars in the history of the world have been between people who understood each perfectly well, including the conflicts in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, and the American Civil War. It seems that mutual understanding sometimes actually excerbates the bitterness of disputes!
But quite apart from this, why should we worry about languages dying out?
Many linguists argue that language diversity is just like biological diversity, and the loss of a language, together with all the cultural history and traditions that it encapsulates, is just as devastating as the loss of a species of fauna or flora.
However, it is true that many lay people do not ascribe to this view, and so we need to consider a more practical reason for promoting efforts to preserve language diversity, an economic argument that may be particularly relevant for Brunei.
One of the key growth areas in the economy, one that Brunei has clearly targeted, is ecotourism. But if tourists are to travel to distant places, they want to see interesting cultures with a rich variety. They do not want to find a bland society where everyone thinks, acts and speaks the same. And this is why the preservation of minority languages and different ways of life is so important for the future of Brunei: each language represents an incredibly rich resource that we cannot afford to lose. Once a language is extinct, it is almost impossible to revive it, and when it is gone, our society is impoverished.
Après Babel in Marseilles
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