The Day a Language Died
When Carios Westez died at the age of 76, a language died, too. Westez, more commonly known as Red Thunder Cloud, was the last speaker of the Native American language Catawba.
Anyone who wants to hear the songs of the Catawba can contact the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where, back in the 1940s, Red Thunder Cloud recorded a series of songs for future generations. 46 They are all that is left of the Catawba language. The language that people used to speak is gone forever.
We are all aware of the danger that modern industry can cause the world's ecology ( 生态 ) .
However, few people are aware of the impact widely spoken languages have on other languages and ways of life. English has spread all over the world. Chinese, Spanish, Russian, and Hindi have become powerful languages as well. 47 When this happens, hundreds of languages that are spoken by only a few die out.
Scholars believe there are around 6,000 languages around the world, but more than half of them could die out within the next 100 years. There are many examples. Araki is a native language of the island of Vanuatu, located in the Pacific Ocean. It is spoken by only a few older adults, so like Catawba, Araki will soon disappear. Many languages of Ethiopia will have the same fate because each one has only a few speakers.48 In the Americas, 100 languages, each of which has fewer than 300 speakers, are dying out.
Red Thunder Cloud was one of the first to recognize the danger of language death and to try to do something about it. He was not actually born into the Catawba tribe, and the language was not his mother tongue. 49The songs he sang for the Smithsonian Institution helped to make Native American music popular. Now he is gone, and the language is dead.
What does it mean for the rest of us when a language disappears? When a plant insect or animal species dies, it is easy to understand what has been lost and to for the balance of the natural word. However, language is only a product of the mind. To be the last remaining speaker of a language, like Red Thunder, must be a peculiarly lonely destiny, almost as strange and terrible as being the last surviving member of a dying species. 50
A. Some people might want to learn some of these songs by hearts.
B. In New Guinea there is an extremely rich source of different language, but more than 100 of them are in danger of extinction (灭绝) .
C. However, he was a frequent visitor to the Catawba reservation in South Carolina where he learned the language.
D. These languages don't have many native speakers.
E. For the rest of us, when a language dies, we lose the possibility of a unique way of seeing and describing the world.
F. As these languages become more powerful, their use as tools of business and culture increases.