New Internationalist

Speak my language - The rise and fall of linguistic empires

One language dies every two weeks. Of the estimated seven thousands languages spoken in the world today, only a fraction is expected to survive into the next century. For those who loose their language, the cultural cost is so profound that it’s likened to loosing one’s family. A shared language is not only a useful tool for communication. It also defines communities. Its words draw boundaries for the values we embrace and the way we see the world. Not surprisingly, a key cause for the decline of the world’s linguistic heritage is the phenomenal global dominance of the language you are reading now: English. But language empires rise and fall. Mandarin Chinese has been tipped to topple English as the future super-language even though English is still gaining popularity inside China. This program’s co-host - Nicholas Ostler - author of Empires of the Word and the chair of the Foundation for Endangered languages - joins today’s guests as they map linguistic imperialism and its cultural costs:

  • Nick Young, founder of China Development Brief, tells lost-in-translation stories from the streets of China - where the international popularity of Mandarin is a source of pride, but communicating in English is still seen as the key to empowerment.
  • What is being done to combat the loss of language? Jeanie Bell manages the Centre for Australian Languages and Linguistics in the Northern Territory, where linguists are working with elders in communities to document endangered languages and teach the next generation traditional tongues.
  • Colonisation leaves a language legacy but independence brings a choice: what should be the official language when there are many contenders? Human rights lawyer and former member of the East Timorese Constituent Assembley, Aderito Soares reveals how the world’s newest nation made that decision and what it means for its emerging national identity.

The music on today’s program celebrates a new generation of Hungarian Gypsy music. Introducing Bela Lakatos & the Gypsy Youth Project features songs in the Romani language, which was forbidden to the Hungarian Roma for generations but is now experiencing a revival through projects like this one.

Listen directly online (flash 128kbps stream)

Download the program to your computer or music player (Right click on the link and choose where
you would like to save the program to - 128kbps mp3 60MB)

Subscribe to the podcast

Comments on Speak my language - The rise and fall of linguistic empires

Leave your comment


  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

...And all is quiet.

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

Get our free fortnightly eNews


Videos from visionOntv’s globalviews channel.

Related articles

Popular tags

All tags

Radio New Internationalist

From January 2007 to August 2008, New Internationalist produced a weekly audio adventure linking you up with progressive people from every corner of the globe. This is the Radio New Internationalist archive.

Radio New Internationalist