Jose Carillo's Forum


This section features links to interesting, instructive, or thought-provoking readings about the English language and related disciplines. The selections could be anywhere from light and humorous to serious and scholarly, and they range widely from the reading, writing, listening, and speaking disciplines to the teaching and learning of English.

What’s lost to the world when a language dies

In “Vanishing Voices,” an article that came out in the July 2012 issue of National Geographic, journalist Russ Rymer ponders the things that are lost to the world when a language dies. He reports that one language dies every 14 days as people abandon their native tongues in favor of English, Mandarin, or Spanish, such that roughly 7,000 languages will likely disappear by the next century.

Rebellious Youth

“The ongoing collapse of the world’s biodiversity is more than just an apt metaphor for the crisis of language extinction,” Rymer observes. “The disappearance of a language deprives us of knowledge no less valuable than some future miracle drug that may be lost when a species goes extinct. Small languages, more than large ones, provide keys to unlock the secrets of nature, because their speakers tend to live in proximity to the animals and plants around them, and their talk reflects the distinctions they observe.”

Rymer is the author of Genie: A Scientific Tragedy, the story of an abused child whose case helped scientists study the acquisition of language. He accompanied the linguistic team of National Geographic’s “Enduring Voices Project,” which strives to preserve endangered languages by identifying language hotspots—the places on our planet with the most unique, poorly understood, or threatened indigenous languages—and documenting the languages and cultures within them.

To be involved in the plight of vanishing languages even just as a journalist, Rymer says, is to contemplate the fragility of tribal life and of the life of its individual members. “Their mortality is a reminder of the mortality of their cultures, an intimation that with each speaker’s death another vital artery has been severed. Against that—against the possibility that their language could slip away without alarm or notice—stands a proud perseverance, a reverence for the old, an awareness that in important ways a key to our future lies behind us. That, and an insistence that the tongues least spoken still have much to say.”

Read Russ Rymer’s “Vanishing Voices” in the National Geographic now!


Is Twitter cheapening language? In “Please RT,” an article that came out in Issue 14 of the magazine n + 1, the editors argue that the rise of the Tweet is taking place amid an Internet-induced cheapening of language, in both good and bad senses. They say: “The economic cheapness of digital publication democratizes expression and gives a necessary public to writers, and types of writing, that otherwise would be confined to the hard drive or the desk drawer. And yet the supreme ease of putting words online has opened up vast new space for carelessness, confusion, whateverism. Outside of Twitter, a coercive blogginess, a paradoxically de rigueur relaxation, menaces a whole generation’s prose (no, yeah, ours too).”

Tweet Photo
FROM n +1

Read “Please RT” in n +1 magazine now!

Epidemic of grammar gaffes. In “This Embarrasses You and I,” an article that she wrote for the June 19, 2012 issue of The Wall Street Journal, columnist Sue Shellenbarger says that managers today are fighting an epidemic of grammar gaffes in the workplace—an epidemic largely brought about by slipping language skills to the informality of email, texting and Twitter where slang and shortcuts are common. Shellenbarger quotes a usage expert: “Twenty-five years ago it was impossible to put your hands on something that hadn’t been professionally copy-edited. Today, it is actually hard to put your hands on something that has been professionally copy-edited.”

Read Sue Shellenbarger’s “This Embarrasses You and I” in The Wall Street Journal now!

Quo vadis, AI? In “The Manifest Destiny of Artificial Intelligence,” an article that came out in the 2012 No. 4 issue of American Scientist magazine, Brian Hayes ponders whether artificial intelligence or AI will create mindless machines or show instead how much a mindless machine can do. “We have many clever gadgets, but it’s not at all clear they add up to a ‘thinking machine’,” he argues. “Their methods and inner mechanisms seem nothing like human mental processes. Perhaps we should not be bragging about how smart our machines have become; rather, we should marvel at how much those machines accomplish without any genuine intelligence.”

Read Brian Hayes’s “The Manifest Destiny of Artificial Intelligence” in American Scientist now!

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