Some anthropologists believe that the world is experiencing a mass extinction of cultures. There are many barometers of cultural diversity, including religion, but the best indicator of the health of the world’s cultures may be the state of its languages. Some languages are growing. English has exploded as the primary language of science, commerce, diplomacy, and pop culture. Other languages are fading. More than half of the 6,000 or so languages currently spoken are unlikely to survive into the next century. About half have fewer than 10,000 speakers. A quarter of the languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers. Many blame language extinction on globalization – a growing uniformity of cultures fueled by technology and a global economy. The last speakers of some languages are fighting back. The Maori of New Zealand, for example, have created language-immersion child-care centers where kids spend the day with fluent elders. Anthropologists believe that languages should be saved because they provide access to different worldviews and provide a safeguard against our having the same cultural blind spots. The Acoma Pueblo people say the goddess Iatiku created different languages so that it wouldn’t be easy for humans to quarrel.
1. Select a foreign language that interests you. Create a computer file from Internet news and sources or create a magazine and newspaper-clipping file of news and feature articles about the country of the language you have selected. After a semester of article collection, can you begin to describe the culture of this country? To learn or study this language, clip photos and advertisements from the newspaper (or print them from your computer) and create flash cards. Write (both in English and in the foreign language) the name of the pictured item on the back of the index card. Next, look for English words that have been derived from the language you are studying. Compile a common word list.
2. Write to a newspaper company in the country of the language you selected and ask them to send you a copy of their newspaper. What culture clues can you gather by studying the foreign newspaper? Compare it to your local newspaper (online or print). Then, see if you can begin to translate the comics or other items.
3. To read and understand a foreign language, we must first understand our own. Check your daily newspaper (online or print) to find examples of the following kinds of writing: Factual report, Short summary, Opinion, Letter, Review or Critique, Dialogue, Humor or Satire, Persuasive writing, and Biographical information. Using each of these examples, what does the writing tell you about our culture? Can you find similar items in your foreign newspaper?