Sun, Mar 08, 2009
The Straits Times
One generation - that's all it takes 'for a language to die'

LANGUAGE experts estimate that about half of the 6,500 known languages currently in use worldwide will be extinct by 2050.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) held a two-day Language and Diversity Symposium to promote the preservation of dying languages of the world.

The event, which was launched Thursday, was hosted by NTU's Centre for Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and Division of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies.

Dr Ng Bee Chin, acting head of the division, said: 'Although Singaporeans are still multilingual, 40 years ago, we were even more multilingual. Young children are not speaking some of these languages at all any more.'

'All it takes is one generation for a language to die,' she added.

While many languages are in danger of dying, there is still hope that efforts can be made to preserve existent languages, and to create new ones.

In line with the symposium was the premiere of an art installation piece named Singapore's Voices, a marrying of linguistics, art and technology to make language a tangible item through photographs and sound.

The piece features interactive images of speakers whose languages are becoming obsolete here, such as the Chinese dialects Hakka and Teochew and the Indian languages of Malayalam and Telugu.

Professor Li Wei from the University of London, an active researcher in the field of bilingualism, said: 'One way to promote and protect linguistics is to allow contact among different cultures and people. New languages are created through such contact.'


This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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