Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Language Extinction

It's a good thing that there's so much concern these days about language extinction.  As someone working in a musical niche, I recognize something kindred in endangered, dead, and extinct languages.  These languages, like our musics, are repositories of alternative modes of expression (at their acoustical surfaces, at the very least)  and, sometimes, perception, and the preservation of such creative diversity is a critical task.

This conservative task is entirely complementary to the goal of encouraging new linguistic invention.  Nothing is more deadening to the imagination than prescriptive linguistics when it has acquired political power (in a country like Germany or France, for example, the rules about correct spelling are a highly political affair and inability or disinclination to follow those rules can be highly disadvantageous; I have recently watched the newfound American enthusiasm for the spelling bee with some horror).  The same certainly goes for musical composition:  innovation, like the recovery of neglected historical musical paths, inevitably means a confrontation with or negation of some conventions or rules.  


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautifully stated. Do you know of any composers, compositions, or recording labels (in the general Western tradition) that make use of endangered languages and/or endangered musical traditions? (I don't mean fairly well-known, large-scale traditions like Indian raga, or Balinese gamelan, of course...)

I ask as a linguist working on and interested in these same questions...