By JOAQUÍN RIVERY TU, Granma
FIRST, I heard that there are about 6,000 languages in the planet. Never thought there were so many people on Earth speaking so many different languages. Almost a million per each of them. Then I heard that UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) predicted the disappearance of almost half of those languages during this centur
What I failed to find out is how many languages existed on Earth, say, 500 years ago, and how much their number has decreased since Europe set out to colonize the world. Europe-led colonization brought about destruction of whole cultures. We’ll never know, for instance, how the Cuban Tainos, or the first inhabitants of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico or Jamaica spoke or sang, or how they did it elsewhere in the Caribbean. The conquistadores’ brutality and their technological strength was aimed at finding gold to pay tribute to European powers, a fact equally valid for America, Africa or Asia.
These attempts at colonization and exploitation those from the North try to extend through other ways have been central to the vanishing of languages, so UNESCO’s concern is fully justified. However, we would have to expand a little the reasons why an original language dies between two place
There is this statement by the UN entity in a report entitled “Toward Knowledge Societies,” which states that language extinction is being caused by the popularization of the Internet. On the Internet, three out of every four pages is written in English, a proportion detrimental to other languages, at least to the most important ones, because some languages are hardly used on the Internet. Enter the power factor: it was invented in the United States, whose government has in it hands the power to control cyberspace networks.
In this connection, UNESCO believes the languages spoken by African tribes are in danger of vanishing, considering that in the next 100 years almost nine out of ten could fade away for lack of use.
How many original American languages still exist or survive the great slaughter of westbound expansion?
It is important to bear in mind that some languages spoken by a number of American ethnic groups, quite reduced by now, are facing a similar risk and thus could be crushed by the advance of so-called “civilization” through their territories in tandem with an avalanche of conquerors seeking for new lands. How many original American languages still exist or survive the great slaughter of westbound expansion?
The Internet’s problem has a certain, if not absolute, value when one wonders: what’s the rate of Latin America’s population with access to the Internet? And in Africa? As if all Filipinos, Indonesians and other people from the Pacific islands and Asian countries had a computer at hom
Many of them don’t even know what an ordinary telephone is, much less the Internet, not to mention the latest generations of cell phones with built-in cameras and TV screen
English language preponderance sprouts, of course, from the economic and military development of countries such as the United States and Great Britain – mainly from Washington’s power and other nations with languages as uncommon as Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, etc., are forced to use English to make themselves understoo
Only 11 per cent of the world population’s today have Internet access, and 90 per cent of its users live in the rich countries. Much remains to be done in the Third World, mainly in Africa, before cyberspace can be deemed truly globalized.
The “digital gap”, therefore, is nothing but a reflection of the gap existing in the command of knowledge, the abyss between opulence and misery, between development and underdevelopment, which must be bridged so that our Earth becomes a little more equitable and humane.