"Why?" they ask.
"Why not?" I reply.
Most often the argument I hear is that it's fairly useless. Icelandic isn't a global language. It's relatively isolated. There are probably only a million people in the world who speak it, probably not a lot more outside of that who care about speaking it. But for all of that, I wouldn't call it endangered. Not yet, anyway. Not as long as Iceland keeps its right to negotiate in Icelandic when dealing with the rest of the Scandinavian nations, and maintains the sense of cultural pride which has kept the language pure enough that modern Icelanders can read the Sagas as they were written.
I've talked a little bit about my frustration that we, as a culture, seem to feel that we have to have a reason to learn something. An excuse. We no longer want to learn for the joy of learning. Being a "professional student" even among people who appreciate education is still something we can't embrace-- something we find somehow foolish. The emphasis is on what you'll accomplish with the education. The career. The money. "What are you going to do with your degree?" is the question students are asked again and again. If it isn't for your career, for your professional development, there's the sense that it's a waste of money and time.
It's a waste of money and time to learn. Ouch. No wonder we have high school drop outs and people who don't see any reason to go to college. No wonder Classical Studies programs are flailing about, desperate for students. And not just Classics, but all liberal arts. Because it isn't a trade. It isn't an area of study that lends itself directly to practical application.
What does this have to do with Icelandic? Or Endangered Languages?
This is why people abandon the language of their small tribal community. Why young people are letting their traditions die out, by adapting "useful" and more common languages. Because learning their grandparents' language isn't worthwhile. They can't DO anything with it.
What people fail to see, is that every language, every piece of information, of shared knowledge, allows us a new worldview, a different way of seeing things. New ways of seeing things, of doing things, are the cornerstones of innovation. Cultural diversity NEEDS to be celebrated. Linguistic diversity is important for mapping out those different viewpoints and understanding others. Understanding OTHER.
It's kind of like the rainforest. Every language that goes extinct is like a tree being cut down, and with it goes all the amazing and unknown things we could have found living in that ecosystem. Opportunities of study, innovation, realization are destroyed. The cure for cancer, the fountain of youth, world peace. It's all the same. We need every tree to make it work.
A quote from the article--just some food for thought.
Turin said he was amazed so few linguists are working on endangered languages, and people "do PhDs on the apostrophe in French," but no one knows precisely how many undocumented languages there are. When a language ceases to exist, so does its cultural world view, and much of the heritage of the community is lost.So my challenge to you is to go out and learn something. Not because it's going to earn you money, but because learning for the sake of learning, for the sake of understanding, is an example we should be setting for our children. Why don't we make an effort to make the preservation of differing world views and cultural heritage a part of OUR culture.
I mean, Why Not?