Like Death but Without Death: the Language-Death-Metaphor and Another Option

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Jonathan Blake Fostar

Abstract

‘Death’, ‘dying’, ‘dead’, ‘extinct’, ‘endangered’, ‘murdered’, ‘resurrected’ etc. The language-death-metaphor for language loss has permeated the contemporary linguistic literature for decades and decades. While biological metaphors for language have served a function historically in the study of language endangerment, this paper aims to outline how the language-death-metaphor specifically fails in that functioning. Maybe, the metaphor does not actually articulate what we are trying to articulate about a process common to all languages. This paper will dissect ‘language death’ cross-linguistically, investigating the changes in morphology, the loss of domains, creolization, and language shift that are all often purported to be ‘symptomatic’ of a language in its ‘last days’. I will then propose an alternative term, ‘phasing’, that might more clearly describe the process by which a language becomes more or less dynamic, more or less adaptable, more or less use(ful)d over time. The more accurate the terminology, the more specific the tool, the more that might be done to assist from the periphery in language reclamation efforts, to aid in slowing or reversing the process of linguistic loss, and to support the speakers of ‘dying’ languages more productively in their already ongoing effort(s).

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How to Cite
Fostar, J. B. “Like Death But Without Death: The Language-Death-Metaphor and Another Option”. Linguaculture, vol. 12, no. 2, Dec. 2021, pp. 85-101, doi:10.47743/lincu-2021-2-0200.
Section
Translation and Language Studies
Author Biography

Jonathan Blake Fostar, Illinois State University, USA

Jonathan Blake Fostar is a PhD candidate and instructor in the English department at Illinois State University. His website is dreamboybook.club.

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