[PLUG-TALK] Go linguistics!

John Jason Jordan johnxj at comcast.net
Fri Jul 8 17:34:04 PDT 2011

On Fri, 08 Jul 2011 15:06:37 -0700
"Richard C. Steffens" <rsteff at comcast.net> dijo:

>The following is from an investing e-mail we get:
>While many think that teen texting represents the end of civilization
>as we know it, in one instance it appears to be saving it, according
>to Margaret Rock on Mobiledia. Teenagers and their texting habits
>have, in some cases, rescued languages that were on the brink of
>extinction. Linguistics researcher Samuel Herrera discovered that
>teens have begun using nearly dead languages in their texting to
>create the sort of "private language" that every teen dreams of.
>Languages in the Philippines, Central America, and South America—such
>as Huilliche, Kapampangan, and Huave—have been kept alive partially
>because teenagers kept their texting fingers busy (although I have no
>idea how to say LOL in Huilliche).

The problem is not that half the world's 6,000+ languages are
endangered (definition: <500 speakers left, usually all older). The
problem is that so many languages are endangered *and* undocumented.
There are not enough linguists to do more than make a dent in the
impending loss of linguistic and cultural data.

For example, the Pirahã language was recently discovered and, to the
amazement of the researcher who documented it, it is not recursive. If
so, this violates one of Hockett's famous language universals, and
threatens one of the underpinnings of Chomskyan transformational
grammar. While the facts about Pirahã are still being debated, the
point is that when a language has been lost we'll never know if it was
the one that would have led us to a breakthrough in understanding human

I doubt the texting teenagers are saving any languages. At best they
have gathered a handful of the tens of thousands of words from each of
the languages in question. And they are using them as loanwords in their
regular language (English, or whatever their native language is). They
have not adopted the morphosyntax of the endangered languages, nor
their phonology. The only appreciable benefit is that they are raising
awareness of the problem of endangered languages. For doing so they
should be applauded. I'm also pretty sure that texting teenagers will
not bring the fall of the republic.

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