Law in Contemporary Society
I added some paragraphing. The text is still not clearly organized, but paragraphing helps.

“A na-ekwu ekwu a ga-ahu,” said my teacher, as I walked into my first Igbo class. Only knowing basic greetings and names of foods, I smiled nervously and responded “ọ dị mma,” which means, “I’m fine.” She looked at me with a puzzled stare and laughed. I knew something was wrong. Despite my Igbo heritage, I never learned the language growing up. For that reason, I had always felt like I was partially disconnected from Igbo culture, thus, when I found an Igbo class at a nearby university, I jumped at the chance to take it. However, after this initial exchange of words with my professor, I began to doubt my decision to take the class. My professor, sensing my embarrassment and discomfort, proceeded to translate her earlier statement in English, which was “talk the talk and you will see.” I nodded in acknowledgment. As the semester continued, I did see. Through learning Igbo, I was also able to begin to grasp untranslatable aspects of the culture that were previously invisible to me. Language holds the secrets of a people and shapes the way we think, our values, our concepts of time and self. So, although I understood parts of Igbo culture, a large part of it was previously inaccessible to me because I could not speak Igbo. However, I was fortunate that resources existed that enabled me to eventually learn my father’s language, thereby better understanding his culture. Others are not so lucky. According to National Geographic, every two weeks a language dies. Language extinction occurs when the languages of powerful groups of people replace languages of minority groups. Often this shift is facilitated by policies, especially education policies. As a result of the policies, younger generations do not have as much use for their language, prompting the cycle of extinction. This is occurring in Nigeria where English is the official language even though there are more than 500 indigenous languages. These languages are oral based, i.e., they lack a standardized writing system. Therefore, the knowledge and history of indigenous peoples are also at risk of extinction. Due to my experience with Igbo, I know personally the invaluable role language plays in understanding culture; thus, I believe it is imperative to protect all languages. I have had experience with combating language endangerment that has shown me the influential role that law plays in protecting languages. For the past three years, I have worked in Swarthmore College’s Endangered Language Lab. I also worked with the Smithsonian Center for Folk Life and Cultural Heritage to organize an upcoming Endangered Language Festival. In these jobs, I worked with and researched endangered languages and also familiarized myself with cases of language revitalization, such as the resurrection of Welsh in Wales. These language revitalizations have resulted from government legislation that enacted the use of endangered languages in education, as well as in business and government documents. I believe the primary way to revive a language is through making it useful again; this can be done by adoptice native languages in education, media, business and in government. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently encouraged education in native language by means of books and textbooks in local languages. UNESCO said “translation into and promotion of local languages supports linguistic and cultural diversity and serves as the foundation for all social, economic and cultural life.” Getting to the point where native languages are used as languages of instruction requires getting local governments to recognize the importance of linguistic diversity. This can be done. Firstly if various advocates, myself included, put pressure on governments to recognize native languages, this could lead to governmental support. Secondly, the social utility of the languages must be changed in the minds of the people to get them to require their government to take policy steps to protect language rights. Both of these steps come with large hinderances. Firstly, convincing a government to change its language policy will mean making the government change its political and governing motivations. Since Colonialism, governments have historically frowned on having multiple language because from a logisitic stand point it makes governing multiple ethnic groups hard. Also, having one language has been seen as a way to unify a people and promite nationalism. However, language is not a depleatable resource; multilingualism is common among most humans. So recognition of native languages would not replace the use of the current governing language. Also, it the social utility of the native language is raised then the government may be more incentivized to protect it. Raising the social utility of a language is probably the most difficult aspect of language revitalization because of globalization. Many native languages are isolated to their local regions and so their speakers often see them as a way to remain isolated from the rest of the world, or held back as opposed to “global” languages are a means to upward mobility. However, that mentality is a reflection of the desire to get out of poverty and the great economic inequalities between members of the same country. However, if there were a way to lessen that gap between the haves and the have nots with a more equal distribution of wealth, then a global language would not be seen as a means to a better life and therefore native languages would not be so quickly abandoned. Many people question why languages need to be saved in the first place. My answer to this is that language is something that can be valuable to a people, and is valuable to me. The only reason that presently-existing languages are entitled to preservation is because they still exist and therefore still can give something to a culture that uses them. Therefore, as long as there is a group of people who want to save their language, I will do everything I can to help them.

-- ChristinaObiajulu - 02 Jun 2013

What is the real subject of the essay? To a linguist, as to any naturalist, each organism is a miracle, each species and family a trove beyond valuing. But extinction is reality. "Indigenous" humans, which actually just means humans who came from elsewhere before or without written record of their travels, have spoken countless languages that don't exist anymore. Our diachronics are based on a tiny number of points in a field thousands of times larger than we can find any way to reach. Why is any presently-existing language entitled to "preservation," instead of Luvian, Etruscan, or Hurrian?


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r4 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:23:38 - IanSullivan
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