The British Academy Lecture, delivered by Professor David Crystal FBA, on 23 February 2011 (venue: The British Academy).
Despite a number of events in recent years devoted to language diversity, language endangerment, and multilingualism, such as the International Year of Languages in 2008, public awareness of the issues is still remarkably limited. Only one in four of the population know that half the languages of the world are so seriously endangered that they are unlikely to survive the present century.
This paper reflects on why the ecolinguistic crisis has made so little impact on public consciousness, despite a great deal of effort by academic authors. A renewed plea is made for the greater involvement of the arts, in the broadest sense, in getting the issues across to the general public, and especially to young people at home and in school. Some progress has been made over the past decade, especially in the worlds of radio, television, and cinema, but artists have generally ignored global linguistic themes.
Three specific recommendations are made. Artworks on the theme of language diversity and endangerment need to be regularly commissioned. A major award at Nobel level needs to be instituted. And countries need to build Houses of Languages.
About the speaker
David Crystal is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Bangor. Well known for his writing on a wide range of subject-areas in language and linguistics, the background to this lecture is treated in Language Death (Cambridge University Press, 2001). He delivered keynote speeches to the UNESCO International Expert Meeting on Endangered Languages in 2003, the Barcelona Linguapax Forum in 2004, the Dialogue of Cultures conference at Reykjavik in 2005, and a UNESCOCat linguistic forum in 2007, and the above lecture is a synthesis and updating of their various elements.