The shifting of a language is a progressive change that is almost inevitable in the ever-growing world that we are in today. It is generally seen as a positive thing and allows for better international trading and relations. If language was not made to progress, expand or shift, then much of the vast changes made over the past few centuries would have been made impossible. Smaller, old languages can only realistically survive in isolation – this can be seen in tribes all around Africa, South America and India. Only communities nearer to the city or even other tribes/villages can successfully change their language to be able to communicate efficiently with the other community. Communication relies on being able to understand who you are talking to and urbanised countries – such as India – have brought in a sense of bilingualism so that their people have a wider scope of getting better jobs around the world.
Being open to a widely known language, such as English, allows for better opportunities as it allows for better communication – many medical journals are written in the majority language of a country and English. If a country is diglossic and the second language that is spoken is a minority language, the chances are slim that the study material can all be found translated into that minority language – that is why being able to adapt a language over-time will makes things easier in the future.
‘Diglossia’ is the term given to a country which has two official languages; one is seen to be on a higher class than the other as it is used in literature and formal education, whereas the other is seen as a lower, more-common language which is used in everyday vernacular. An example of a previously-Diglossic country would be Greece, whose two languages were Modern Greek and Katharevusa. A country with diglossia is not to be confused with a bilingual country as bilingualism refers to the individual and diglossia refers to the society.
As mentioned previously, the progress in international trading and international relations can be attributed to language changes, as the formation of lingua franca pidgins comes as a result of traders having no common mother tongue. A Pidgin language could once have been defined as “an amalgamation of two disparate languages, used by two populations having no common language as a lingua franca to communicate with each other, lacking formalized grammar and having a small, utilitarian vocabulary and no native speakers”1, however, as seen in Papa New Guinea, Tok Pisin has gone from being a trade language to the official language spoken in the country. The amount of doors Tok Pisin has opened for the residents of this country show just how useful language shifts can be for a society; had the Pidgin not been developed as a language between the Pacific Island labourers and people in Australia2 and the surrounding islands, it would have never flourished into the language that it is today, with around 120,000 native speakers and over 4 million who speak Tok Pisin as a second language3.
Language shifting can also be seen as a positive thing when you take into account how versatile a language can be in this day and age. Regional dialects from one area of Britain can be found in another due to migration – and yet, the people living in these areas can understand the language perfectly, although it is different to the ‘Queen’s English’. In the same way, when the English language is stripped to its barest form – going from “Can I have a drink, please?”, to “you -gesture- give me -gesture- drink” – people with next to no understanding of the language can actually understand the gist of the request. If language wasn’t made for changes, then stripping words of their inflections and connective words should surely render the sentence nonsensical? The hand gestures, exuberant actions and clear, short and to-the-point words ensure that this has become a lingua franca between the two speakers. Stretching this process over time and between more people will see how this may be the beginnings to a new English-based Pidgin.
Latin, seen by a great many as being a ‘dead language’ hasn’t completely died out; not in just the sense that it is still being taught in many private schools, state schools, university and churches around Europe, but also in the fact that much of the English language has roots from many of the Romantic languages and Latin. While it is a shame that the language seems to be much less of use than it was pre-medieval era, the language is still being used in some capacity.
It is hardly a ‘dead language’ as it has influences over a great many languages – know as the romance languages – including, but not limited to, English, French and Italian. The language shift shows that Latin is still being preserved in the modern world today and that it hasn’t died out. Another example of a ‘dead language’ is Sanskrit. It is said to be the ‘official’ language of India, however it is now only used mostly for religious purposes. While Sanskrit is not used in its full capacity, Hindi (the standard language of India) has derived from it and many of the words are similar to that of Sanskrit. There is also a revival movement in India to “Sanskritise Hindi”4 due to the surge of patriotism felt by the speakers after the independence in 1947.
On the other hand, while there are many reasons as to why language shift can be seen as a positive thing as a whole and one that can lead to self-betterment and liberation, it can also result in the actual death of others – take early British languages such as Cornish, and Irish and Scottish Gaelic for example. These languages used to thrive before they were force to shut down due to the spread of English. In this way, language shifts are seen as a negative influence on languages as it forces smaller, minority languages to adapt or die out completely.
Forced diglossia and bilingualism work in the exact same way. Countries, such as Greece and Belgium, which forced diglossia and bilingualism amongst its countries, saw more conflict than positive attitudes to the change. The borders between areas in Belgium make it hard for French speakers to venture out of their designated area and in to others when the population gets too big, and Dutch speakers are forced to relinquish some of their territory when this happens – this makes the region a source of endless conflict, all as a result of the languages forced upon them.
Another fault with language shifts is the fact that language is not an entity within itself; it is merely in the minds of the speakers. If the speaker of the language feels no use for the language, then the speaker won’t try to protect it from becoming extinct. When a language ceases to be able to adapt as the world around it adapts and change as society does, society will leave the language behind, in favour of learning and sustaining a language which does do all of these things. In this way, we can see that small communities with their own traditions, culture and their own way of communicating will have to change all of this in order to interact with other communities around them which may not speak the same language. Once this community stop using the nearly-extinct language and start using one which allows them to communicate easily with other, the language no longer has a use and has therefore died out.
In conclusion, although language changes do ultimately result in the death of some smaller, minority languages, on the whole, it can be seen as a generally positive thing. One cannot expect for language to remain stoic while the entire world around it undergoes billions of changes every day, let alone every decade or so. It is expected that a language will change as much as the people using it do as the people are the ones who carry the language. Perhaps pidgins would be the way forward in preserving older, more traditional or minority languages in the future, but it can be safely predicted that many languages will die out in the next century. This is a tragedy, but it is also part of an ever-growing and progressive world that needs to adapt around the people living in it, rather than remain impassive to the changes around it.
1 http://english.oxforddictionaries.com/ – 06/03/11
2 http://www.travelgear.com.au – 07/03/11
3 http://www.travelgear.com.au – 07/03/11
4 Tsui, A. ; Tollen, J. W., 2007, Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts, Routledge