Whether on the other side of the world or in our own backyard, languages everywhere are fading into oblivion. Mark Abley explores what the human family stands to lose — and explains why some endangered languages continue to thrive.
Within the next couple of generations, most of the world’s 6000 languages will vanish, due mainly to the unstoppable tide of English. With an open mind and a well-worn passport, award-winning journalist and poet Mark Abley tells entertaining and vital stories about why languages matter. From Oklahoma to Provence, aboriginal Australia to Baffin Island, the cultures are radically different, but the problems of shrinking linguistic and cultural richness are painfully similar. Abley’s investigation provides a stunning glimpse of the beauty and intricacies of languages like Yiddish and Yuchi, Mohawk and Manx, Inuktitut and Provençal. More importantly, it offers a sympathetic and memorable portrait of the people who still speak languages under threat.
When a language dies out, gone too are stories that have been told for centuries, unique ways of seeing the world, and perhaps even ways of solving problems both large and small. Abley believes we must see languages as abundant sources of richness, wonder and usefulness. And he shows that hope still exists: that the determination of even one person can revive a whole language and its culture, in the process creating something new, changing and alive — exactly what languages do best.
From the Trade Paperback edition.