Linguist David Harrison Talks Dying Languages in The Economist

Alisa Giardinelli

Linguist David Harrison Talks
Dying Languages in The Economist

by Alisa Giardinelli
11/29/10

K. David Harrison
K. David Harrison says there are only a few hundred speakers of Koro, three of whom are pictured above. His efforts to document the language recently garnered wide media attention.

In a recent issue of The Economist, Associate Professor of Linguistics K. David Harrison discusses "language hotspots," a term he coined, and what is lost when a language dies. He also says that a shift in attitudes that values the "intellectual diversity that is fostered by linguistic variety" can help ensure a language's survival.

"We would be outraged if Notre Dame Cathedral or the Great Pyramid of Giza were demolished to make way for modern buildings," says Harrison, author of The Last Speakers (2010). "We should be similarly appalled when languages - monuments to human genius far more ancient and complex than anything we have built with our hands - erode." Read the complete interview.

Harrison is an authority on endangered and dying languages with particular interest in connections between language and biodiversity, ethnoecology, and cultural survival. He is also the author of When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge (2007). He and colleague Greg Anderson lead the scientific research for the Enduring Voices Project, a partnership between the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages they founded and National Geographic Mission Programs.