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The Breakup of Languages



     Stuart Rawlings' research field has been the Amazonian Indians of Peru. He brings up the disappearances of languages:
     The recent discussion about the breakup of languages has prompted me to include some thoughts about non-Hispanic languages in Latin America. When I arrived in the Peruvian Amazon in 1994 to start my field work, the recognized number of tribes with distinct languages was 65. Of these, 39 tribes had a population of less than 500 people. One of my subjects was Dona Alicia, a woman around 70 years old who was the last of her Resigaro tribe. When she dies, another of the world's languages will be lost.
     It's interesting to note that the Wycliffe Bible Missionaries (who have done so much to destroy indigenous cultures through aggressive trespassing and Christianization) have also made major contributions to the study of these disappearing languages. They have made meticulous tapes of the words, sounds and definitions of words in most of these languages, which are available to all at their libraries in America. For this particular side of cultural preservation, we should be grateful.


     My comment: Not being an anthropologist, I shed not a tear for the disappearances of languages. They remind me of old France, where each city had its customs barrier (octroi), impeding trade and leading to the liberating cry of "Laissez passer!" The octroi was abolished. For me languages are a form of octroi impeding the free passage of information and ideas. For these to pass easily, the octrois must disappear.

Ronald Hilton - 2/26/00


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