The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project  The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project

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 language endangerment.


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 mankind’s cultural heritage because most of humanity’s accumulated knowledge of history and the planet will be erased forever.