Memory loss

Posted on Friday, March 12th, 02010 by Kirk Citron
link Categories: Long News   chat 0 Comments

The Long News: stories that might still matter fifty, or a hundred, or ten thousand years from now.

Today, humans speak to each other in nearly 7,000 languages; it’s estimated that 90% of those languages will be gone by 02050, displaced by English, Spanish, or Chinese. Meanwhile, there’s a broader question about how well we’re preserving  the rest of the world’s cultural heritage. But while we may be losing our collective memories, the thoughts of individuals are more and more likely to live on.

Some recent news stories about losing, or preserving, human culture:

1. What we have here is a failure to communicate:

65,000-year-old language goes extinct

Why half of the world’s languages are in serious danger of dying out

2. Goodbye to all that:

Machu Picchu, Barcelona church on threatened list

3. Culture goes back further than we imagined:

Oldest ‘writing’ found on 60,000-year-old eggshells

Modern behavior found half-million years earlier than previously thought

4. Speak, memory:

Device turns thoughts into speech

Researchers show brain waves can ‘write’ on a computer

Brain scanners can tell what you’re thinking about

New camera promises to capture your whole life

We invite you to submit Long News story suggestions here.

  • Liz

    ‘The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in a Modern World’ by Wade Davis, speaks to the legacy of humanity and what we risk as we face the loss of the indigenous cultures that have learned to adapt to, rather than to master, the landscape. Well worth the read.

  • A wonderful piece. You might be interested in this terrific presentation by ethnolinguist K. David Harrison at PopTech:

    David’s call to record and preserve records of the world’s dying languages was itself translated into dozens of extant languages, from Igbo to Nupe.

  • When I read something like this I think not only of the languages being lost, but the lost potential for myself and the rest of human society. Every language acts as a tool with many uses; description, evaluation, conflict resolution, community building, critical thinking, etc. When a language dies am I irrevocably losing a tool that could be enormously powerful in changing my life? Metaphor is a powerful tool for communicating ideas in English and creating a sense of common values amongst different people. Does some vanishing language incorporate a set of values or a perspective that could be transformative to our world? Something as simple as the wit of William Shakespeare moves through our language in so many different ways. What are we missing out on when a language dies? What blind spot in our view of ourselves and the world will be forever undiscovered when some simple quality of a unique language evaporates into history?

  • Languages are neglected when their speakers run out of time to maintain them. This happens when another difficult language offers bigger or different rewards. At the moment, that other language is often English, Mandarin, French or some dialect of Spanish. These all represent huge time investment, to the detriment of Idaacha, Fulani, Tibetan and thousands of others.
    If we care, the solution is within our grasp. In less than 100 hours, we can learn Esperanto, a language ingeniously designed to be both simple and adaptable to any use.Our children can easily learn it before the end of elementary school. It doesn’t even need specialist teachers and it provides an ideal “apprenticeship” for the learning of other languages later.
    Let the Fon people access the global community in Esperanto and they will have time left to maintain their culture instead of spending their six meagre years of education learning French or English.


    I think as we evolve so does our cultures and languages, you only have to look at the 100 years.

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