Colonisation, Globalisation, and the Future of Languages in the Twenty-first Century

Salikoko Mufwene

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Abstract

The typical academic discourse on language endangerment has presented languages as anthropomorphic organisms with lives independent of their speakers and capable of negotiating on their own the terms of their coexistence. Not surprisingly it has become commonplace to read about killer languages in the same vein as language wars, language murders and linguicides. I argue below that languages are parasitic species whose vitality depends on the communicative behaviours of their speakers, who in turn respond adaptively to changes in their socio-economic ecologies. Language shift, attrition, endangerment and death are all consequences of these adaptations. We must develop a better understanding of the ways in which one ecology differs from another and how these dissimilarities can account for variation in
the vitality of individual languages. Globalisation is discussed as part of the relevant
language ecology. I submit that only local globalisation has endangered or driven most languages to extinction.

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:

Mufwene, Salikoko. Colonisation, Globalisation, and the Future of Languages in the Twenty-first Century. IJMS: International Journal on Multicultural Societies. 2002, vol. 4, no.2, pp. 162-193. UNESCO. ISSN 1817-4574. www.unesco.org/shs/ijms/vol4/issue2/art2

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