In February 2010, on the Andaman’s Islands of India, Boa died at the age of 85 … and with her died an ancient language the Bo language. The extinction of Indigenous languages like Bo language are exponentially increasing in an age that relies heavily on globalization. There are currently 6,000 to 7, 000 spoken language around the world, and it is reported that more than half are in danger of extinction. Some languages disappear in an instant with the dying of the lone speaker, like Boa or die gradually in a bilingual society where the prevalent language overtakes and thrives over the other. The BBC reports that “every year the world loses around 25 mother tongues. That equates to losing 250 languages over a decade”.
One reason for the rapid dying of languages is globalization, English being the world language, Mandarin the most populous, and Spanish the most growing language. However, due to the rapid communications around the world if you find enough people who want to speak a language, they can; for "Language is not a plant that rises and falls, lives and decays. It's a tool that's perfectly adapted by the people using it. Get on with living and talking."
To give you a bird eye view on the increasing endangered languages around the world, the UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger offers a world map with searchable countries that include languages that are: :vulnerable, definitely endangered, severely endangered, critically endangered, and extinct. By just looking at the world map, you would be startled at the magnitude of rapid extinction of indigenous languages. The Middle Eastern Region for example, contains many that are severely to critically endangered languages such as the Domari, Western Armenian, Suret, and Turyo, and one extinct language, the Malahso whose last speaker was Ibrahim Hanna, died in 1998
When a language dies, so does its culture, traditions, and thought. Language and thought are particularly intertwined for language shapes thought and perception. The New York Times has published an impressive article in 2010 titled Does Your Language Shape the Way Your Think? and it shows how through one’s language the culture instills in one the habits of the mind, from emotional Reponses to the impact on our beliefs. And thus, if you think about it, when a language dies so dies a great invention that might help our world become a better place.
In her compelling TED talk, a longtime English Teacher Patricia Ryan asks a proactive question: Is the world's focus on English preventing the spread of great ideas in other languages? (For instance: what if Einstein had to pass the TOEFL?)
She argues that the English language teaching has become a lucrative international business,which clearly is, from international schools and universities that enforce English as the medium of instruction, to language centers, and English language assessments such as the TOEFL, IETS and SATs. She claims that “We English teachers are the gatekeepers” because if you satisfy us then we can say you can study at university. This to her is the problem as we are missing a lot of bright minds because of the language barrier, perhaps the next Einstein.
As fledgling English language teacher 10 years ago I used to condescend on students who had difficulty with learning the English language, believing that they were incompetent and that they should never go to college with such language abilities. Little did I know that my mindset was contributing to the barrier of the minds, for my mind was a result of my country’s, Lebanon, English language speaker superiority. My mindset has shifted gradually, like a roller coaster, as I gained more experience, however. Yet, as of now I see many teachers looking at struggling students as I saw them years ago.
The core problem is not the students, but the systems and institutions built around the lucrative motto “Learn English, go to best universities, and live happily, forever”. Like Patricia, I am not against teaching English, but what I am against is the business model and institutions built around learning the language, depicting it to the seeker of knowledge as “essential for illumination”. What I am against are those institutions that build toward the great educational divide, the inequality and inaccessibility to high quality education no matter their languages.
I believe that global language should exist but not to thrive and live on the expense on other language, and that the people should be aware of this construct.