Books by Romaine, Suzanne

Nettle, Daniel and Suzanne Romaine. Vanishing Voices. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-513624-1.
Of the approximately 6000 languages in use in the world today, nearly 85 percent have fewer than 100,000 speakers—half fewer than 6000 speakers. Development and globalisation imperil the survival of up to 90% of these minority languages—many are already no longer spoken by children, which virtually guarantees their extinction. Few details are known of many of these vanishing languages; their disappearance will forever foreclose whatever insights they hold to the evolution and structure of human languages, the cultures of those who speak them, and the environments which shaped them. Somebody ought to write a book about this. Regrettably, these authors didn't. Instead, they sprinkle interesting factoids about endangered languages here and there amid a Chomsky-style post-colonial rant which attempts to conflate language diversity with biodiversity through an argument which, in the absence of evidence, relies on “proof through repeated assertion,” while simultaneously denying that proliferation and extinction of languages might be a process akin to Darwinian evolution rather than the more fashionable doctrines of oppression and exploitation. One can only shake one's head upon reading, “The same is true for Spanish, which is secure in Spain, but threatened in the United States.” (p. 48) or “Any language can, in fact, be turned to any purpose, perhaps by the simple incorporation of a few new words.” (p. 129). A paperback edition is now available.

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