Madison Krieger: What is Lost When a Language Dies
From Emily Bush-Clark on April 16th, 2020
When I was seventeen I received a State Department funded scholarship to spend a year living and studying in Surabaya, Indonesia. While there I learned to speak Javanese and Bahasa Indonesian. I remember being fascinated with the ways that language can change the way someone moves through the world. Following my time in Indonesia, I dove into the study of linguistics and eventually received a National Science Foundation grant for Linguistic research. I travelled to San Basilio de Palenque, Colombia in 2019 to perform research on a spanish-based creole that was revitalized after linguists predicted its demise. Unfortunately, the attitude toward language preservation is negative if at all detectable. Even my Anthropology professors have dismissed the importance of Linguistic Anthropology despite the role that language plays in shaping culture. Factually, languages are dying at alarming rates with little concern- so I decided to speak up about it.
For my speech, my intended audience were Penn State faculty and students. My policy focused on drawing from the collective intelligence of a research institution and being able to bring undergraduate students to the forefront of the issue (since they are the future leaders and policy makers). Despite the fact that we use language to communicate, this is an issue easily silenced. With the loss of language is the loss of identity and diverse ways of thinking. If we are to solve some of the most complex challenges of reversing systemic oppressions or climate change challenges we need the most creative and diverse thinkers possible- this comes from continuing linguistic diversity. For the United States specifically we need to face the ways that we force assimilation onto immigrant communities specifically in “english only” rhetoric. We can help English language learners learn english in order to be successful while still celebrating and promoting their culture and language.
As a result of this project and my research I’ve realized that many dying languages started their decline due to various forms of bullying. Forced Assimilation, discrimination, mocking… all of these are just ways that one group protects their own misunderstandings and insecurities and perpetuates harmful stereotypes. Words have power and I am continuing to learn how to use that power for the better.