Languages In The World: How History, Culture, and Politics Shape Language


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Words and grammar

Much of the time, yes. But not always. You can easily conjure up mental images and sensations that would be hard to describe in words. You can think about the sound of a symphony, the shape of a pear, or the smell of garlic bread.

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None of these thoughts require language. Take colors, for example. There are an infinite number of different colors, and they don't all have their own names. If you have a can of red paint and slowly add blue to it, drop by drop, it will very slowly change to a reddish purple, then purple, then bluish purple. Each drop will change the color very slightly, but there is no one moment when it will stop being red and become purple.


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The color spectrum is continuous. Our language, however, isn't continuous. Our language makes us break the color spectrum up into 'red', 'purple', and so on. The Dani of New Guinea have only two basic color terms in their language, one for 'dark' colors including blue and green and one for 'light' colors including yellow and red. Their language breaks up the color spectrum differently from ours.

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But that doesn't mean they can't see the difference between yellow and red; studies have shown that they can see different colors just as English speakers can. In Russian, there are two different words for light blue and dark blue. Does this mean that Russian speakers think of these as 'different' colors, while having one word blue causes English speakers to think of them as the same? Do you think of red and pink as different colors? If so, you may be under the influence of your language; after all, pink is really just light red.

So our language doesn't force us to see only what it gives us words for, but it can affect how we put things into groups. One of the jobs of a child learning language is to figure out which things are called by the same word. After learning that the family's St. Or the child may not realize that the neighbor's chihuahua also counts as a dog.

The child has to learn what range of objects is covered by the word dog. We learn to group things that are similar and give them the same label, but what counts as being similar enough to fall under a single label may vary from language to language. Why do we hear so little about some, and so much about other minority languages spoken in Russia today? This course takes a view of linguistic diversity irrespective of such factors.

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Instead, language diversity is understood in terms of linguistic structure on all levels: phonology, morphology, syntax, and discourse. Language endangerment, in turn, is particularly alarming if, as is usually the case, it leads to a decrease in diversity and to the loss of a different world view. One of the aims of the course is to explore historical and current trends that shape d the perceived importance of language both in the native-speaking minority and in the majority community.

How do diversity and endangerment correlate? The course is an introduction not only to the sociolinguistic situation of the minority languages of Russia but also to the study of some of the languages. By critically evaluating the impact of language policy and the challenges to language revitalisation, you will develop an introductory knowledge of the methods of sociolinguistic research and the main principles of studying endangered languages. And where to you put your troops?


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  5. You put them in a castle. And as you go from East to West across North Wales, the castles get bigger and bigger and bigger. So: what if linguistic homogenization is a path to peace—or at least some greater degree of human understanding?

    Globalization may be making us all more alike, but if that makes it less likely that we will find ourselves sufficiently different to resort to violence, then perhaps that growing homogeneity isn't actually a bad thing. At Babel, the Judeo-Christian God scatters humans and confounds their tongues that they might be chastened in their ambitions to rival His perfection. He sparks a proliferation of languages as a punishment for human pride, and his punishment aims at impeding human understanding.

    More languages make us strange, unfamiliar, and ultimately Cosmopolitanism is about tolerating a wide variety of lives, values, and languages. But that rests on a core commonality of tolerance.

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    Which ought to give us—and Holman—pause. Is the loss of linguistic diversity part of a broader global trend towards common values?

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    Is it a natural accompaniment to the growing hegemony of modern liberal values regarding the value of human life, dignity, self-determination, and more? Or maybe not. These sorts of theories are hard to test—let alone prove. But global multilingualism has considerable reasons to recommend it as well. Holman explores these through interviews across Australia's Goulburn Island, Hawaii, and yes, fair, beautiful Wales.

    He and his partners wonder if the loss of languages might represent a substantive loss of human wisdom. Not just in the obvious way—by the evaporation of various symbols and sounds—but also by the erosion of intuitive knowledge contained in each language. For instance, one of the the ten tongues spoken by Goulburn Island's inhabitants incorporates various words for the area's plants and animals in ways that capture seasonal subtleties of how these are interrelated; some of these nuances are untranslatable.

    What if these still-relatively-banal examples just scratch the surface? What if the innumerable bits of wisdom embedded in threatened languages is even more substantive? Various languages have evolved myriad ways of representing quantities. The French, for instance, count to soixante-neuf sixty-nine and then go to soixante-dix "sixty-ten"—or 70 all the way up to soixante-dix-neuf "sixty-ten-nine"—or 79 and then quatre-vingt "four twenties"—or And the pattern continues—99 is quatre-vingt-dix-neuf "four-twenties-ten-nine". These differences matter. Research suggests that the structures of various languages actually influence how children develop their sense of numbers, quantities, and the broader mathematical world.

    And what if there is still deeper knowledge embedded in a language? What if French really is the "language of love?

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    What if Khams Tibetan contains a particularly profound way of depicting and conveying familial connections? Languages contain the best and worst habits, predilections, biases, and insights of the communities that speak them.

    Languages In The World: How History, Culture, and Politics Shape Language Languages In The World: How History, Culture, and Politics Shape Language
    Languages In The World: How History, Culture, and Politics Shape Language Languages In The World: How History, Culture, and Politics Shape Language
    Languages In The World: How History, Culture, and Politics Shape Language Languages In The World: How History, Culture, and Politics Shape Language
    Languages In The World: How History, Culture, and Politics Shape Language Languages In The World: How History, Culture, and Politics Shape Language
    Languages In The World: How History, Culture, and Politics Shape Language Languages In The World: How History, Culture, and Politics Shape Language

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