Endangered Languages Week 2008
Opening and event & debate. 30 April, 11am-12pm, FG08 (Faber Bldg), all welcome
Your language footprint
What is a language footprint?
It is the influence of those speaking a dominant language
on speakers of other languages. In any communication, if your
choice of language makes another person shift from their language
to yours, you have made a language footprint.
Why is it important?
Currently, half of the world’s 7,000 languages are
threatened with extinction. These languages do not “disappear” passively
- people stop using them because of pressures, including influences
that make them shift to dominant languages.
How does it work?
Here is an example. A speaker of English (Spanish/Russian/Chinese
etc) - person A - travels to a place where a minority or endangered
language is spoken. Person A interacts with person B from
the local community. If this interaction takes place in A’s
language, rather than B’s language, then A has placed
a language footprint.
What does a big language footprint look like?
A person (and a community) assumes and insists that others
understand/speak/read/write their language. The person and
community do not learn to communicate in languages of others
that they interact with. The person and community travel widely
or spread their influence widely (eg through trade and communications).
How can I reduce my language footprint?
Learn other languages, especially less commonly spoken languages
or those of places to be visited. Employ a local translator.
Speed-learn a language while you fly. Support other languages
by buying books in them. Encourage companies to do marketing
and make packaging in local languages everywhere, employing
local people to do the translations. Avoid products and activities
that give people no choice other than to use dominant languages.
Can I offset my language footprint?
Of course. For example, you can support increased language
learning in your own country, switch holidays to places where
your language is not intrusive, sponsor efforts towards language
maintenance in other communities, support another person to
learn a language, learn about the world’s diversity
of languages, and help make others aware of the problem of
What happens if we do not reduce our language footprints?
By each thinking about our own language footprint,
we can all play a small but significant part in countering
the trend to mass language extinction. If we are not successful,
the result will be even more serious than global warming;
everyone will lose the opportunity to take part in
cultural heritage because most of humanity’s accumulated
knowledge of history and the planet will be erased forever.