Monday, 19 November 2012

Which is More Important: Endangered Animals or Endangered Languages?

Both animals and languages are at risk of extinction equally. However, no one really asks the question whether which is more important. They just do not seem to relate to each other in any way. Hopefully in the following minutes I can inform you on how these types of extinction relate to one another, and give you my own opinions on why one is more important than the other.
Shouldn't we strive to preserve both equally? In a perfect world: yes. Extinction usually occurs as a result of intolerance against the native language or species. Even the British Empire itself grew to be successful due to their intolerance of the native language of the invaded country; often allowing only English to be spoken and taught. Most languages cannot be preserved for a lack of time or finance; saving a language takes expensive amounts of both of these. On the other hand however, language is the medium of communication between humans, even sign language. Language is necessary among humans to prevent conflict and to develop themselves. There are hundreds of endangered languages which should be preserved. Here are some examples: 
·       Helambu Sherpa. This is believed to be extinct since no native 
     speakers exist. It originated on Nepal.
·        Squamish. This is spoken by Native Americans
    of the Suquamish Nation, and is sourced from
    British Columbia, in Canada. However, less
    than twenty native speakers remain in this nation.
·   Awjila. This was traced back to the Oasis of Awjila in Libya wherein
    the 2,000 native speakers live.

In addition there are also many thousands of endangered and extinct animals which we have to fight for. Some unusual examples include:
·     The Cassowary bird. This bright, blue bird is closely related to the Emu, but 
     is incredibly close to extinction.
·     The Tazmanian Tiger. Last known of in 1937, when the last one died
     on the 17th of September, then dubbed the day of Endangered Species.
·      Lesser Bilby. The smaller breed died out in the 1960’s, while the Greater 
    Bilby is critically endangered.

More emphasis is placed on endangered animals but why is this? What is so gripping about animals that languages just don’t have? Well, for a start, humans themselves are not endangered, and so culture doesn’t seem so important in this ever changing world. When commercials request aid, they often use cute photos of animals like Pandas, Tree Kangaroos, Snow Leopards and most commonly Polar Bears. Language cannot be shown as cute in pleas for help in the same way, and so cannot attract our attention as easily. 

We are also encouraged to preserve wild life because of our dependence on other species for our own survival. When a language becomes extinct, it does not affect mankind in the same way. Moreover, it does not affect all of mankind, only a minority of the population. Many people are of the opinion that language is language. As long as everyone can communicate, who cares about different dialects and idiolects? They argue that it would be easier to speak just one language throughout the world, to globalize and prevent destructive language barriers. To these people, the preservation of language is considered a waste of money, paper, ink and time.

Is extinction permanent? Apparently not. Extinction is dangerous, careless and often sad. Indeed every 14 days a language dies. By 2100, approximately half of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world today will disappear, according to the National Geographic. In Australia before colonization there were around 250 indigenous languages, while after colonization there are only 20 constantly used languages. The statistics are similarly depressing for animals. The rate of extinction in mammals has increased up to 120% in 2005 since the 1600s, according to research by UCR. Nearly 20,000 animals are considered critically endangered in the world today and three new, dying species are discovered every week.

Despite this, sometimes success stories emerge through perseverance. For example the Muwekma Ohlome tribe of California has revitalized their moribund language Chochenyo, last spoken in the 1930s. As of 2009, the tribe was able to teach their students and carry out fluent conversations in Chochenyo. Furthermore, the Woylie, one of the smallest marsupials in the world was reintroduced onto small, predator-free islands following a decline in their primary hunters, foxes. 

In my opinion, we should try to make more effort to revitalize languages. If we’re willing to spend millions on saving endangered insects like the 12 species of Cape Stag Beetle currently being preserved, surely we can afford to save a few interesting and culturally significant languages such as Squamish. I found an article which said that “When a language dies a specific understanding of the world and a culture formed over centuries dies with it.” Each language has a different influence on society, as well as on the syntactic structure of the brain. The study of neurological patterns gives valuable insight into complex neuro-linguistic conditions, which could lead to a greater understanding of strokes and dyslexia, perhaps even providing a cure in the future.

Language is a main repository of human development and should be preserved as such. Language is one of the things that made us the way we are today; if we keep stuffed extinct animals in Natural History Museums, why shouldn’t we hold onto languages as well? Language also represents identity for many minority tribes and races of the world, and gives each a unique inner-connection with them-selves. Finally I believe that it is more inclusive to have a polychromatic world of linguistic diversity than to have a monochromatic world of dullness. 

I believe that language should be placed at a higher importance than animals because we live in an anthropocentric and secular world wherein we only care for ourselves. We ruin the world with our development and globalization, but even if that weren’t to happen, the animal cycle would still lead to extinction for many animals, such as the Dodos in the Pleistocene epoch. Language represents us in a way that animals do not, and I believe that as many as possible should be saved from extinction. 


  1. But animals are alive. Surely they therefore come before a language that no one cares about?

  2. I don't think you quite understand. The majority of animals being saved are animals that no one cares about... hundreds of different species of mice and insects that don't leave even a scratch on humanity. And there is no such thing as a language that no one cares about. If the language is human, then someone must care about it, or are you saying that we are not all equal?