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"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men."

Col 3:23

What does language extinction mean for a community

When a community loses its language, it often loses a great deal of its cultural identity at the same time. Although language loss may be voluntary or involuntary, it always involves pressure of some kind, and it is often felt as a loss of social identity or as a symbol of defeat.

That doesn't mean that a group's social identity is always lost when its language is lost; for example, both the Chumash in California and the Manx on the Isle of Man have lost their native languages, but not their identity as Chumash or Manx. But language is a powerful symbol of a group's identity. Much of the cultural, spiritual, and intellectual life of a people is experienced through language.

This ranges from prayers, myths, ceremonies, poetry, oratory, and technical vocabulary to everyday greetings, leavetakings, conversational styles, humor, ways of speaking to children, and terms for habits, behaviors, and emotions. When a language is lost, all of this must be refashioned in the new language—with different words, sounds, and grammar— if it is to be kept at all.

Frequently traditions are abruptly lost in the process and replaced by the cultural habits of the more powerful group. For these reasons, among others, it is often very important to the community itself that its language survive. Much is lost from a scientific point of view as well when a language disappears. A people's history is passed down through its language, so when the language disappears, it may take with it important information about the early history of the community. The loss of human languages also severely limits what linguists can learn about human cognition.

By studying what all of the world's languages have in common, we can find out what is and isn't possible in a human language. This in turn tells us important things about the human mind and how it is that children are able to learn a complex system like language so quickly and easily. The fewer languages there are to study, the less we will be able to learn about the human mind.

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