Two key concepts of language endangerment : language obsolescence and language death


  • Pierre Swiggers



Two key concepts of language endangerment, language obsolescence and language death


In the contemporary context of world-wide language endangerment, of linguistic imperialism and regression of minority languages, it is of vital importance to take initiatives for the maintenance and protection of linguistic biodiversity.  Languages that become extinct are a major loss, not only for the communities concerned but also for humanity in general. The role of linguists should not be confined to documentation and recording of threatened languages, but should be extended to policies  aimed at the revitalization of languages in the process of obsolescence and extinction, and to programs for stimulating language awareness and language cult. Although practical work and immediate political interventions remain the most urgent tasks, there is also need for a theoretical discussion on the value of language maintenance and preservation. It is important to define adequately the basic concepts to be used in discussions, as well as in scholarly and "bureaucratic" writings in the field of language endangerment. The aim of the present paper has been to clarify the concepts of 'language obsolescence' and 'language death', with an eye at offering a general characterization and typology of both phenomena. Accurate information on the causes and contextual factors involved in language obsolescence and language death can help to elaborate a theoretically coherent frame for construing open-minded language policies and for arousing a widespread feeling of respect for the linguistic rights of speech communities, however small and unprotected they may be.


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31. 12. 2007




How to Cite

Two key concepts of language endangerment : language obsolescence and language death. (2007). Linguistica, 47(1), 21-33.

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