September 22, 2007

A Couple of Corrections

The National Geographic News article Languages Racing to Extinction in 5 Global "Hotspots" about the Enduring Voices Project discussed by Eric a couple days ago contains a couple of errors worth commenting upon. First, the Pacific Northwest region listed as one of the five "hotspots" is not "the U. S. Pacific Northwest" but the Pacific Northwest region of North America, which includes much of British Columbia.

Another error appears in the assertion that

In the last 500 years, an estimated half of the world's languages, from Etruscan to Tasmanian, have become extinct.

which implies that Etruscan became extinct in the last 500 years. Actually, Etruscan died out long before that, around 100 C.E. The last person known to have been able to read Etruscan was the Roman emperor Claudius, who died in 54 C.E. He reported that he compiled his Etruscan-Latin dictionary (regrettably lost) by interviewing some of the small number of elderly rural people who could still speak Etruscan. He is, I believe, both the first and the last monarch known to have conducted linguistic fieldwork. We don't know exactly when the last speaker of Etruscan died, but it was on its last legs in the first half of the first century.

The rate of language loss has accelerated as communication and travel have become more rapid and efficient, but the phenomenon is far from new.

[For some other critiques see Jane Simpson's post as well as Claire Bowern's post at Anggarrgoon to which Eric referred.]

Posted by Bill Poser at September 22, 2007 03:47 AM