Listen: Linguist K. David Harrison on Preserving Endangered Languages

RadioTimes (WHYY): Learning a foreign language and preserving endangered ones

Professor of Linguistics K. David Harrison identifies the cause of endangered languages as globalization. “What happens as people move to urban centers and the international education systems," he says, is "they are strongly discouraged from using heritage languages and they’re also made to feel that their native languages are not as worthy or worthwhile as the big national languages... It comes down to people’s attitudes. If you internalize a negative attitude about a language as a child, you are going to abandon it and stop using it." (34:13).

Harrison, also the associate provost for academic programs, describes the process of his field research (35:15), discusses sign language diversity (43:53), and advises that people take interest in other languages through expressing a sense of respect and wonder at language diversity (46:48).

Harrison is the author of When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge (Oxford University Press, 2007) and numerous articles in professional journals including Linguistic Discovery, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Languages, and Cultural Survival Quarterly and the edited volume, Prehistory of Central Siberia. Harrison is also co-founder and research director of the non-profit Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. In 2013, he co-curated the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival program, "One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage."