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Study of 2,400 languages reveals that almost 50% of the world’s linguistic diversity is under threat.


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There are more than 7,000 languages ​​in the world, and their grammar can vary greatly. Linguists are interested in these differences because of what they tell us about our history, our cognitive abilities, and what it means to be human.

But this great diversity is threatened as more and more languages ​​are not taught to children and they fall into a slumber.

in new leaf Posted in Science advancesWe have launched a comprehensive grammar database called Grambank. With this resource, we can answer many research questions about language and see how much grammatical diversity we might lose if the crisis does not stop.

Our findings are troubling: we were losing languages, we were losing linguistic diversity, and unless we do something, these windows in our collective history will close.

What are the rules?

Grammar is the set of rules that define what a sentence is in that language, and what is gibberish. For example, the tense form is mandatory in English. To combine Sarah, write, and paper into a well-formed sentence, I have to indicate the time. If you do not have a tense in an English sentence, it is not a grammatical rule.

This is not the case in all languages ​​though. In Japan’s native Hokkaido Ainu language, speakers need not tell time at all. They can add words like already or tomorrow – but speakers consider the sentence to be true without it.

As the great anthropologist Franz Boas he once said: “The rules (…) specify those aspects of each experience that must be expressed.”

Research on 2,400 languages ​​shows that nearly half of the world's linguistic diversity is at risk

World map of languages ​​included in the Grambank dataset. Color represents grammatical similarity – the more similar the colors, the more similar the grammar. Credit: Skirgård et al. (2023), CC BY-SA

Linguists don’t care about correct grammar. We know the rules change over time and from place to place – and that variation isn’t a bad thing for us, it’s amazing!

By studying these rules across languages, we can gain insight into how our minds work, and how we convey meaning from ourselves to others. We can also learn about our history, where we came from, and how we got here. It is somewhat unusual.

Huge linguistic database of grammar

We are thrilled about his release Grambank In the world. Our team of international colleagues has built it up over several years by reading many books on grammar and talking to experts and community members about specific languages.

It was a difficult task. The grammars of different languages ​​can be very different from each other. Moreover, different people have different ways of describing how these rules work. Linguists love terms, so understanding them was a particular challenge at times.

At Grambank, we used 195 questions to compare more than 2,400 languages ​​- including two signed languages. The map below provides an overview of what was captured.

Each dot represents a language, and the more similar the color, the more similar the languages. To create this map, we used a technique called principal component analysis—reduced the 195 questions to three dimensions, and then mapped them to red, green, and blue.

The great difference in colors reveals how different all these languages ​​are from one another. When we get areas of similar colors, as in the Pacific Ocean, this may mean that the languages ​​are related to each other, or that they have borrowed a lot from each other.

Language is very special to humans. Part of what makes us who we are.

Research on 2,400 languages ​​shows that nearly half of the world's linguistic diversity is at risk

Barplot of syntactic diversity (functional richness) across regions. Light green shows current diversity, dark green shows residual diversity remaining after removal of endangered languages. Author introduced

Unfortunately, the world’s indigenous languages ​​are facing a crisis of danger due to Colonialism and globalization. We know that all language is lost severe effects health Indigenous people Communities cut ties with lineage and traditional knowledge.

Almost half of the world’s linguistic diversity is threatened

In addition to the loss of individual languages, our team wanted to understand what we might be losing in terms of grammatical diversity.

Grambank’s database reveals an impressive array of languages ​​around the world – a testament to human capacity for change, diversity and creativity.

Using an ecological measure of diversity, we assessed what kind of loss we could expect if currently threatened languages ​​disappeared. We found certain areas will be affected more than others.

Frighteningly, some regions of the world such as South America and Australia are expected to lose everyone of their original linguistic diversity, because all the indigenous languages ​​there are threatened. Even other regions where languages ​​are relatively safe, such as the Pacific, Southeast Asia, and Europe, still show a significant decline of about 25%.

What then?

Without continued support for language revitalization, many people will be harmed and our shared linguistic window into human history, cognition, and culture will become dangerously fragmented.

The United Nations announced 2022-2032 Hold Indigenous Languages. Around the world, popular organizations incl Ngokor Language CentreAnd Noongar Budjar Language Centreand Canadian Heiltsuk Cultural Education Center It maintains and revitalizes the language. To get a sense of what this could be, check this out Interactive animation by Angelina Joshua.

more information:
Hedvig Skirgård et al, Grambank reveal the importance of genealogical constraints on language diversity and highlight the impact of language loss, Science advances (2023). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adg6175

Introduction to the conversation

This article has been republished from Conversation Under Creative Commons Licence. Read the The original article.Conversation

the quote: Research of 2,400 Languages ​​Shows Nearly Half of the World’s Language Diversity is at Risk (2023, April 22) Retrieved April 22, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-languages-world-language- diversity. html

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