Being a professional linguist engaged in language preservation (I am
currently working with the Chemehuevis and several Shoshoni communities
on language preservation and documentation), I probably ought to
respond to this.

I think that the *sole* determining factor concerning language
preservation efforts should be the wishes of the community. As Padraic
says, some people really don't care if a language survives or not. What
surprises many is that these indifferent souls may also *be* speakers
of the language.

One of the communities I work with held a referendum several years ago
about implmenting a bilingual education program. There was serious
debate about whether the second language (i.e. not English) should be
the heritage language or Spanish. Sound incredible? Not really,
considering the economic realities the community faces. What good will
it do school kids to be able to talk to a handful of their elders (who
are fluent in English as well) in their heritage language when they are
being elbowed out of jobs because they don't have a working knowledge
of Spanish?

It may be a mistake for such a community to abandon their heritage
language, but it is their mistake to make. I think it's misguided for
linguists and anthropologists to insist that linguistic/cultural
preservation is inherently good and should be pursued regardless;
indigenous communities are made up of intelligent and capable people
who should be allowed to make these kinds of decisions for themselves

Of course, this is not to say that linguists and anthropologists should
not offer their help to communities or give it freely when it is asked;
but we need to respect their wishes when they say, "No, thank you.
We're not interested." It's a hard thing to watch a language die, but
it's the right thing to do if that is the wish of the people who speak


[1] For the same reason, I feel that any religion should be allowed to
proselyte freely, provided that they do not use manipulative or
coercive techniques; people are smart enough to make these kinds of
decisions for themselves, and they don't need help or advice from any
political authority in matters of conscience or faith.

Dirk Elzinga
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If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so
simple we couldn't.
- Lyall Watson