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Let them die

The preservation of dying languages and cultures is pointless and reactionary. People want to join modernity

By Kenan Malik   November 2000

There are about 6,000 languages in the world today. Shortly there will be one fewer. Eighty-one-year-old Marie Smith Jones is the last living speaker of Eyak, an Alaskan language. When she dies, so will her language. Over the past few decades many languages have died in this fashion. In 1996, for example, Carlos Westez, known as Red Thunder, took a Native American language, Catawba, with him to his grave.

At least half of the world’s 6,000 languages are expected to disappear over the next century; some say that by the year 3000, just 600 languages will remain. According to the…

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