Cover image for Vanishing voices : the extinction of the world's languages
Vanishing voices : the extinction of the world's languages
Nettle, Daniel.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
x, 241 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1350 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
P40.5.L33 N48 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Few people know that nearly 100 native languages once spoken in what is now California are near extinction, or that most of Australia's 250 aboriginal languages have vanished. In fact, at least half of the world's languages may die out in the next century. What has happened to these voices?Should we be alarmed about the disappearance of linguistic diversity? The authors of Vanishing Voices assert that this trend is far more than simply disturbing. Making explicit the link between language survival and environmental issues, they argue that the extinction of languages is part of the larger picture of near-total collapse of the worldwide ecosystem.Indeed, the authors contend that the struggle to preserve precious environmental resources-such as the rainforest-cannot be separated from the struggle to maintain diverse cultures, and that the causes of language death, like that of ecological destruction, lie at the intersection of ecology andpolitics. And while Nettle and Romaine defend the world's endangered languages, they also pay homage to the last speakers of dying tongues, such as Red Thundercloud, a Native American in South Carolina, Ned Mandrell, with whom the Manx language passed away in 1974, and Arthur Bennett, an Australian,the last person to know more than a few words of Mbabaram. In our languages lies the accumulated knowledge of humanity. Indeed, each language is a unique window on experience. Vanishing Voices is a call to preserve this resource, before it is too late.

Author Notes

Daniel Nettle received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from University College London. He is the author The Fyem Language of Northern Nigeria and Linguistic Diversity (OUP). He lives in London. Suzanne Romaine has been Merton Professor of English Language at the University of Oxford since 1984. Sheis the author of numerous books, including Language, Education and Development: Urban and Rural Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea and Language in Society: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (both by OUP). She lives in Oxford.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Creating an explicit link between ecological and linguistic vitality, Nettle (Ph.D., anthropology, University Coll., London) and Romaine (English language, Oxford Univ.) persuasively present the scientific value of saving endangered languages. Anecdotes, statistics, and graphs help address significant assumptions about why languages die and how a few languages have achieved world dominance. The authors provide useful background information and tackle underlying issues, some of which spurred another recent publication, Stephen G. Alter's Darwinism and the Linguistic Image (Johns Hopkins Univ., 1999). Among other books that offer detailed examinations of threatened languages are Endangered Languages, edited by Lenora Grenoble and Lindsay Whaley (Cambridge Univ., 1998), and Robert M.W. Dixon's The Rise and Fall of Languages (Cambridge Univ., 1998). Highlighting the wealth of scientific knowledge encoded in threatened languages, the authors promote not only bi- or multilingualism but also the economic and ecological benefits of cooperating with endangered language speakers. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.DMarianne Orme, West Lafayette, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The goal of this book--to inform the scientific community and the public at large of the threat facing the world's languages and cultures--is laudable, but the message is not new. The authors, Nettle, an anthropologist, and Romaine, a sociolinguist (Oxford Univ.), interpret the loss of linguistic diversity as part of the worldwide loss of biodiversity, blaming political and ecological forces. The book, which developed out of a series of lectures at Oxford University in 1998, reflects the specialized interests of both authors; as a result, the cultural and linguistic dimensions of their analysis remain separate and could have been more effectively integrated. The book pays considerable attention to dying languages and laments the consequent loss of culturally specific knowledge. Their solution for maintaining linguistic diversity is the acceptance of bilingualism as a means of preserving minority languages. Well written and illustrated, the book will be of interest primarily to general readers and undergraduates. D. R. Parks; Indiana University-Bloomington

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. vii
Prefacep. ix
1 Where Have All the Languages Gone?p. 1
2 a World of Diversityp. 26
3 Lost Words/Lost Worldsp. 50
4 the Ecology of Languagep. 78
5 the Biological Wavep. 99
6 the Economic Wavep. 126
7 Why Something Should Be Donep. 150
8 Sustainable Futuresp. 176
References and Further Readingp. 205
Bibliographyp. 215
Indexp. 225