When Languages Die: The Extinction of the Worlds Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge by K David Harrison

When Languages Die: The Extinction of the Worlds Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge

byK David Harrison

Paperback | August 4, 2008

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It is commonly agreed by linguists and anthropologists that the majority of languages spoken now around the globe will likely disappear within our lifetime. The phenomenon known as language death has started to accelerate as the world has grown smaller. This extinction of languages, and the knowledge therein, has no parallel in human history. K. David Harrison's book is the first to focus on the essential question, what is lost when a language dies? What forms of knowledge are embedded in a language's structure and vocabulary? And how harmful isit to humanity that such knowledge is lost forever? Harrison spans the globe from Siberia, to North America, to the Himalayas and elsewhere, to look at the human knowledge that is slowly being lost as the languages that express it fade from sight. He uses fascinating anecdotes and portraits of some of these languages' last remaining speakers, inorder to demonstrate that this knowledge about ourselves and the world is inherently precious and once gone, will be lost forever. This knowledge is not only our cultural heritage (oral histories, poetry, stories, etc.) but very useful knowledge about plants, animals, the seasons, and other aspectsof the natural world--not to mention our understanding of the capacities of the human mind. Harrison's book is a testament not only to the pressing issue of language death, but to the remarkable span of human knowledge and ingenuity. It will fascinate linguists, anthropologists, and generalreaders.

About The Author

K David Harrison is Assistant Professor of Linguistics, Swarthmore College. As a linguist and specialist in Siberian Turkic languages, he has spent many months in Siberia and Mongolia working with nomadic herders and studying their languages and traditions. He has also worked in India, Bolivia, the Philippines, Lithuania, and the Unit...

Details & Specs

Title:When Languages Die: The Extinction of the Worlds Languages and the Erosion of Human KnowledgeFormat:PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 6.1 × 9.09 × 0.79 inPublished:August 4, 2008Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195372069

ISBN - 13:9780195372069

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

1. A World of Many (Fewer) Voices2. An Extinction of (ideas about) Species3. Many Moons Ago: Traditional Calendars and Time-ReckoningCase Study: Urban Nomads of Mongolia4. An Atlas in the MindCase Study: Wheel of Fortune, and a Blessing5. Silent Storytellers, Lost LegendsCase Study: New Rice vs. Old Knowledge6. Counting to Twenty on your ToesCase Study: The Leaf-Cup People, India's Modern Primitives7. Worlds within WordsBibliographyIndex

Editorial Reviews

"Written in clear and concise prose, When Languages Die provides a captivating account of how languages encode and categorize human knowledge and experience. Harrison brings together a wealth of examples from all over the world to illustrate just how very much is lost when a language ceases tobe spoken. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in people and how we think, perceive, and understand the world we live in." --Lenore A. Grenoble, Dartmouth College