Agreeable ways to disable your children

Should parents purposely have deaf children if they prefer them, by selecting deaf embryos?

Those in favor argue that the children need to be deaf to partake in the deaf culture which their parents are keen to share, and that deafness isn’t really a disability. Opponents point out that damaging existing children’s ears is considered pretty nasty and not much different, and that deafness really is a disability since deaf people miss various benefits for lack of an ability.

I think the children are almost certainly worse off if they are chosen to be deaf.  The deaf community is unlikely to be better than any of the millions of other communities in the world which are based mainly on spoken language, so the children are worse off even culture-wise before you look at other costs. I don’t follow why the children can’t be brought up in the deaf community without actually being deaf either. However I don’t think choosing deaf children should be illegal, since parents are under no obligation to have children at all and deaf children are doing a whole lot better than non-existent children.

Should children be brought up using a rare language if a more common one is available?

This is a very similar question: should a person’s ability to receive information be severely impaired if it helps maintain a culture which they are compelled to join due to the now high cost of all other options? The similarity has been pointed out before, to argue that choosing deaf children is fine. The other possible inference is of course that encouraging the survival of unpopular languages is not fine.

There are a few minor differences: a person can learn another language later more easily than they can get their hearing later, though still at great cost. On the other hand, a deaf person can still read material from a much larger group of hearing people, while the person who speaks a rare language is restricted to what is produced by their language group. Nonetheless it looks like they are both overwhelmingly costs to the children involved. It may be understandable that parents want to bring up their children in their own tiny language that they love, but I’m appalled that governments, linguists, schools,  organizations set up for the purpose, various other well meaning parties, and plenty of my friends, think rescuing small languages in general is a wonderful idea, even when the speakers of the language disagree. ‘Language revitalization‘ seems to be almost unanimously praised as a virtuous project.

Here are some arguments for protecting many small languages that have been given to me in conversations recently, along with why they don’t stand:

  • Languages have their own concepts that just can’t be expressed in other languages
    This is very cheaply solved: assign a bunch of letters in the conceptually impoverished language to said concept.
  • Languages have their own style of thought, so if a language is lost a whole way of seeing the world is lost
    Since most people mainly experience one language and thus supposedly mainly one ‘way of seeing the world’, the benefits of variety for experience’s sake are low. If one person wants several ways of thinking they can learn extra languages themselves, as always.
  • Due to the last point, and the fact that language must affect thought to some extent, if a language is lost a whole host of ideas that would have been thought of in that language are also lost
    Maybe a bit, just like if you move house you will have a whole host of different random triggers to different thoughts. Since all the people who would have been speaking the dead language are now speaking a different one, they are presumably thinking of more of the ideas which come naturally with that language. They are probably thinking of more unique ideas, since they are not having to work in semi-disconnect with vast populations they can hardly communicate with.
  • When a language dies, culture dies with it
    Most activities can be carried out in any language, writing can be translated etc. So presumably, absent coercion, any loss of popularity faced by a particular culture is due to those who did engage in it wanting to do something else. If literature of the dying language wasn’t considered worth translating to the new language, how can it be worth the much larger cost of maintaining a population of people speaking the old language? The loss of a culture is hardly a loss if people wanted to leave it. A culture is just a collection of behaviours, with no rights to human followers. The only loss is of historic data, but recording is relatively cheap.
  • Language is cultural heritage, and thus is inherently valuable and should be preserved
    That makes no sense, but if you like cultural heritage, record it. I suppose there should be government programs to keep people living in 1980s architecture too?
  • There are lots of beautiful sentences to be said in every language. This beauty and the potential for more of it is lost if a language is lost.
    First, there are unimaginably many languages that don’t exist at all, also with much potential for aesthetically pleasing constructions. Should we try to encourage more language diversity to exploit each language’s capacity for beauty? Perhaps every school could teach its own language? Second, any given language alone seems to have more potential for beauty than anyone has managed to use up, and I haven’t heard complaints about sharply increasing scarcity of original nice sentences. Third, since most people don’t speak most languages, any given bit of this added beauty can’t be appreciated by most people anyway. If more people spoke a few languages, those languages would have more beautiful works in them, and more people could enjoy those larger sets of work.

None but the last of these is even obviously true, and most of them would be small benefits regardless, compared to the benefit of actually being able to communicate with your language. The cost of most of the world not being able to talk to one another is not just the occasional inability to understand a foreign movie or to get diverse foreign news. There are around 200 million migrants in the world, many of whom have faced the huge effort of learning a new language. Once they have learned it they will often spend years or decades with an accent that makes every conversation with a local unnecessarily difficult. As a result they will miss out on years of opportunities and friendships. I listen to a lot of talks by foreign students and it always seems terrible that they put so much effort in, and yet much of the content is lost on me for lack of coordination in vowel pronunciation and syllable emphasis. I presume these problems are much worse if the number of people who speak your first language is small.

I’m not arguing for extreme efforts to implement a single world wide language or anything like that, but why work toward obstructing communication at the margin? Let people who want to speak dying languages do so, but do not resuscitate, or even offer prophylaxis. Exotic languages are romantic and promoting cultural differences is politically correct, but the main value of languages is in communicating, and a patchwork of local protocols is the antithesis of that goal.

36 responses to “Agreeable ways to disable your children

  1. Opponents point out that damaging existing children’s ears is considered pretty nasty and not much different

    However I don’t think choosing deaf children should be illegal, since parents are under no obligation to have children at all and deaf children are doing a whole lot better than non-existent children.

    From a consequentialist perspective, these are more or less identical. Parents who harm their children could also argue that they would not have conceived them if they could not harm them.

    Even if normal child>harmed child>no child at all, there should be a way around the utility-decreasing harming action. Forcing people to have children and prohibiting them from hurting them is a possibility, although the coercion involved and presumed worse parenting of the unwanted children makes this unviable. Subsidising childbirth to the tune of the net positive externalities (to the new child in particular) seems a much better alternative than incentivising parents with the ability to harm their child.

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  2. fixed my post

    Opponents point out that damaging existing children’s ears is considered pretty nasty and not much different

    However I don’t think choosing deaf children should be illegal, since parents are under no obligation to have children at all and deaf children are doing a whole lot better than non-existent children.

    From a consequentialist perspective, these are more or less identical. Parents who harm their children could also argue that they would not have conceived them if they could not harm them.

    Even if normal child>harmed child>no child at all, there should be a way around the utility-decreasing harming action. Forcing people to have children and prohibiting them from hurting them is a possibility, although the coercion involved and presumed worse parenting of the unwanted children makes this unviable. Subsidising childbirth to the tune of the net positive externalities (to the new child in particular) seems a much better alternative than incentivising parents with the ability to harm their child.

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  3. Excellent post. Some random thoughts:

    1) Machine Translation is getting better extremely rapidly, but only between languages for which we have large datasets (i.e. webpage corpra) on which to train computers in an automated fashion. This will soon start to have dramatic effects on the value of knowing (or not knowing) certain languages; e.g. German speakers won’t gain so much anymore, as far as being more interconnected to the world, from learning English. You can already see the beginning of this trend with e.g. semi-automated, semi-human translations of wikipedia articles. Native speakers of very rare languages will be even worse off.

    2) If we’re really keen to make “Sapir-Whorf gains” – i.e. discover ideas only thinkable in one language, then we shouldn’t be trying to conserve existing languages, we should be teaching artifical languages that have been designed with this in mind. So for example I hope to live in a world with a sizable community of fluent Lojban speakers one day – then we can see if there are real gains to a philosophers/lawyers/mathematicians if their native language is more regular, less ambiguous, etc than natural languages tend to be.

    3) What do you think of the “value” of a language in making the inhabits of a country feel united? This of course comes back to the deaf culture argument. Is it all a negative – i.e. it leads to xenophobia? Or can some limited amounts of in-group sentiment be good, if channeled the right way? E.g. in the way cheering for the same sports team as someone else makes you feel happy, and except for a few exceptions like soccer hooligans it seems to not really have many bad side effects.

    What if every country has two languages – a “global” language that immigrants can use instantly on arrival, and a “local” one that they can learn to get a stake in the culture? So the Irish government could aim to have everyone speak English, as a common tongue for migrants, and also Gaeilge, which by learning you can make yourself feel “more Irish”. Is this a healthy equilibrium? Some messy version of this is the defacto state of affairs in a lot of places in the world already (India, Europe and China strike me as the best examples to use when thinking about overlaps of linguistic, political and cultural boundaries.)

    4) Tying in the rest of the points to education: since children learn languages so much more easily, should we aim to immerse all kids in two languages between birth and high school – a “culture” one like Sign lanugage or Gaeilge, and some useful “communicating” one like Mandarin or Spanish? Maybe some can also get taught a third “thinking” one like Lojban.

    Aside from “(global) communication”, “cultural identification”, and “thinking different kinds of thoughts”, are there any other plausible important categories of reasons to learn a particular language?

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  4. 4*) Actually, I can think of two more, both related to what you’ve written about and quite common as reasons today.

    a) “History thinking” languages, where you suspect there are some extremely important old ideas that only come across clearly in the languages in which they were originally written. Most plausible candidates (given my Western biased knowledge of important historical texts) from the ancient world are Classical Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Classical Chinese (don’t know the right name), and (Quranic) Arabic. Probably the majority of important ideas in post-renaissance Western thinking are accessible to modern speakers of English, French or German. Not sure where gaps in this list might be.

    I doubt if this category merits teaching young kids to “speak natively”, based on what we can currently reconstruct of them, instead of just letting scholars of history or religion or philosophy learn them at school/university, as is the case now.

    b) Art languages – some languages are allegedly more aesthetically pleasing than others? These days I think many people who learn Tolkien’s Elvish languages do so for “cultural” reasons – because they identify as nerds or whatever – but Tolkien’s own chief motivation was to create a language that sounded pretty, so he could write nice poems in it.

    The point I guess is not so much that beautiful sentences are “getting scarce”, but that they might be “lower cost” in some languages – i.e. the number of hours of a poet’s labor to produce one unit of “beauty” is less in Elvish than in English. Again, constructed languages seem more promising than existing ones for this purpose.

    Aesthetics is of course notoriously subjective; calculating or comparing the “value” of poetry within one language is hard enough without trying to do cross language comparisons. This needs to be explored in its own right.

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  5. This post neglects two important facts. First, children can learn multiple languages at once, speaking them all fluently and without accent, and participating in all their associated cultures. Consider the bilingual children of immigrant patents who experience one set of traditions at home and another at school. Even if there were some benefit to cultural and linguistic purity, multilingual children would still experience most of the gains of knowing a “rare” language without the costs of being unable to communicate with most people. It goes without saying that the analogy to deafness fails here.

    Second, children have more plastic brains. So it’s vastly easier to learn additional languages in childhood. Similarly, “change the way you think” effects would be more pronounced and neurologically meaningful in childhood. If, as a parent, you think that knowing multiple languages is beneficial, then you should make your child mutilingual early.

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    • Alex is correct.

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      • Alex is right in this regard. Be they deaf or hearing, children’s brains are so elastic they can pick up several languages. I picked up sign language, English, French, and Latin. Daddy knew nine foreign languages. If one does not learn a second language until in high school or college, his brains would become less plastic.

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        • Post Scriptum:

          My hearing sister and hearing nephew picked up sign language from their deaf mothers and picked up English from their hearing fathers.

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    • Alex is absolutely right. My 7- and 5-year old children are bilingual speakers of Portuguese (our mother tongue, as we are among the 190 millions of Brazilian) and Esperanto, which is spoken with them from birth.

      Their own discoveries about language, speech and puns are more interesting than their colleagues’, teachers said. Their pronunciation of Portuguese and precision of applying its plural forms is more regular than mine, for instance, even if I was raised monolingual. And they enjoyed a lot our contacts and guests from Japan, Belgium, Poland, France, with and without children. Such rich experiences with other cultures I had not at that early age, unfortunately.

      The learning of a second language, even a small one, should never be compared to an impairment! It is an improvement to their abilities of hearing – and especially of listening to other points of view around the world.

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    • Re: Alex.

      Indeed. This point (bilingualism / multilingualism) is the most important one to bear in mind in such debates. The blog (and so many like it) ignores the fact that the natural linguistic state for m/billions of people is one where they grow up speaking more than one native language, or at least learn others in early childhood; to suggest that one ever needs to “choose” between one’s local language and a “useful, global” language is utterly ludicrous. In a suitable education system children can become equally fluent in multiple languages, and be the better for it.

      Other points concerning language and conceptuality fail to convince for similar reasons, viz. a failure to understand the way language works. Such arguments in favour of translatability, etc., being dismissive of the unique creative possibilities of individual symbolic systems (languages), each with a unique nexus of signification, risk suggesting that the human languages are little more than logical systems or pure ciphers, and can be no more poetic than sheepdog commands. An analogy (admittedly limited): one can paint a tree in watercolours or in oil, or carve a figure in marble or from clay. Each medium ‘says’ the same thing and from each we understand ‘tree’ or ‘woman’, but who would argue that the variety is not good, that each tree is actually the ‘same’? No – they are the same, but beautifully different at the same time.

      True, it takes a bit longer to learn langauges than to look at a clay sculpture, but why are we so lazy that we want to simplify things so much? Why on earth would we ever *want* (let alone be able) to speak to all 7 billion people on this planet, all in a single invariable language? It’s impossible, implausible and utterly undesirable. Let’s go the whole hog and all call each other ‘Bruce’ as well! :)

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  6. That language preservation is usually praised as a virtuous project shows there is some confusion. Cultures and languages can’t suffer so any discussion about the tragedy of language death must, in order to be sensible, make reference only to the effect on humans. People tend to be very fuzzy on this point. Of course people can and do suffer when cultures change. Some of that is unavoidable (learning new ways to do things or new languages is a pain). Some of that is a result of good features lost or bad features gained. But some is definitely avoidable or unnecessary, i.e. extreme cultural conservatism, where culture preservation is a value in itself. I think that when people pass on a culture-conservatism meme, they’re limiting their children and unnecessarily creating a barrier in the same way that monolingual ingroup communities do.

    This inspired a full post at my blog:

    http://thelateenlightenment.blogspot.com/2010/08/cultures-cannot-suffer.html

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  7. In the “practice what you preach” category, I should add that my grandparents were the last in the family who learned Pennsylvania Dutch, and while I don’t see why they deliberately withheld it from my mother, I’m not impoverished as a human being for lacking it. It also can’t be a tragedy that PA Dutch language and culture has effectively been swallowed by the broader U.S. culture, since PA Dutchmen individually seem to have had a fine time of the last three centuries.

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  8. Much of the support for the “protection of linguistic diversity” comes from the effect on the “non-consequentialist egalitarian” types of the awareness that many countries and regions (99% of the population of the continent of South America for example) speak the langauge that they do because of military aggression and occupation (motivated in large part by gold and silver in the case of South America). I suppose that the supporters of the “protection of linguistic diversity” have less trust in the kind of argument Katja has made here than in the principle that if they are sincere and pure of heart in their opposition to conditions produced through evil means like greed and violence, then everything will turn out OK.

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  9. Of course, everything will not turn out OK, or at least not as OK as it would have turned out if folks had been sufficiently rational and had used consequentialist ethics.

    Experience with public debate and public opinion over the free-market economics suggests that it will be hard to convince a lot of people that part of the reason English and the other “world languages” continue to grow is that people freely choose to learn them and have their kids learn them without any coercion or oppression involved. In fact, supporters of the free market did not have to contend with facts as persuasive to the non-consequentialist egalitarians and as inconvenient to the supporters of the free market as the fact that for centuries, the main cause of the spread of certain languages at the expense of other languages _was_ organized violence motivated by racism and greed.

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  10. The obvious solution is to teach children multiple languages, both the preserved small language and the world language. Hebrew was revived, but Israel always has been and still is a very multilingual country with many speakers of English, Arabic, Russian etc. (Ironically, the revival of Hebrew contributed to the extinction of even smaller languages like Jewish Neo-Aramaic, but those would probably have died anyway.)

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  11. “Should children be brought up using a rare language if a more common one is available?”

    Language is akin to an organism, in that successful ones adapt to the environment. Twenty words for “snow”, for example, are useless in the tropics, but absolutely essential in the arctic. Elimination of “small languages” can also cause a disconnect with the natural world, in addition to the death of a culture.

    “In several conversations lately, these are the arguments for protecting many small languages that have been given, along with why they don’t stand:”

    There is a big dose of implied cultural superiority in all these arguments.

    “Exotic languages are romantic and promoting cultural differences is politically correct, but the main value of languages is in communicating, and a patchwork of local protocols is the antithesis of that goal.”

    “Exotic” languages which have survived have done so because they are pragmatic, not because they are “romantic.” The main value of language may be in communication, but it is not the only value.

    I’ll agree with you about the futility of “revitalizing” languages- if the language is vital it will live on its own, no intervention is necessary, and if it is not, no amount of intervention will revive it. Learning sign language is growing rapidly among non-deaf people, it enriches the person and culture.

    One problem about talking in general terms about “small” languages is that each such language is different.
    How do you define “small?” German? Norwegian? Icelandic? Faroese? All come from the same root. German is obviously a major language, Norwegian is spoken by about a tenth as many speakers, and Icelandic by about one thousandth as many, with Faroese even smaller. Most comparative linguists would concede that Icelandic is still vibrant, with a richness of expression that exceeds its larger relatives.

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  12. You mention as a possible fix for
    “Languages have their own concepts that just can’t be expressed in other languages” that other languages could have new words inserted into them.

    I don’t mean to be arguing the difficult-to-determine-but-presumably-factual question of how much conceptualization is linked to language, although it sounds like you are more skeptical of the [Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity) than I am, but given that there are small differences, even that would make it [trivially inconvenient](http://lesswrong.com/lw/f1/beware_trivial_inconveniences/) to come up with certain ideas.

    I do agree that the benefits of communication are huge, and my preferred solution would be emphasizing people learning many languages, so that certain language savants could maintain these insights without the communication barrier.

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  13. Claiming that any language can express any thought and so only one is needed is like claiming that we don’t need oil paints since watercolor will do.

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  14. You’re ignoring one key aspect of linguistic diversity, which is the HUGE benefits for research in cognitive science. It’s already known that cognitive science researchers tend to have theories with significant cultural bias. Of the large languages in the world today, most of them come from 2-3 major language families (Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan, and Altaic.) Scientists born into these language groups, even if they’re fluent in multiple languages, tend to make assumptions about what the human mind can and cannot do.

    Language isolates allow scientists to apply existence proofs to major cognitive theories that we have no other good way of validating/invalidating. For instance, the Piraha language changes the way we think about recursion in language. An Australian tribe’s language is changing how we believe the mind does spatial mapping. I’d refer you to to the work of people like Boroditsky, Levinson, and Gibbs, for more examples.

    But, as a number of people have pointed out, there’s no obstacle to children learning multiple languages. Many migrant communities in the US do this, and if there’s no stigma attached to speaking their own language, the migrants remain fluent in both languages for many generations. The big problem has more to do with language shaming, where people are treated poorly for not exclusively speaking the dominant tongue in an area. (Maybe by their peers at school, maybe by an oppressive regime…)

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  16. You’re unduly dismissive of the significance of language differences to our understanding of cognitive functioning, sociology, and other aspects of human mental and behavioral differences. Not to mention slightly more distant but important concepts in mathematics and computational linguistics. It alarms me that your post reads like it was written by someone less informed than your background would suggest.

    That said, I must also pick on this which you said, On the other hand, a deaf person can still read material from a much larger group of hearing people, while the person who speaks a rare language is restricted to what is produced by their language group.

    Functionally that is often not true, as there are many sign-language-native deaf persons with very poor English literacy. The two languages are entirely different, I thought to compare Chinese and English but even that is not an appropriate comparison as ASL or any other SL vs. a spoken-written language use different modalities. One can be both ASL-fluent and English-fluent but it is not uncommon not to be. Probably less true now than 25 years ago however.

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  17. Anonymous and Wim,
    As a utilitarian I agree with you both that harming people for the sake of important science is not as popular as it should be. However considering how little research is done on people with obscure languages rather than Western people (as Anonymous points out), it seems inefficient as well as cruel to expend spare effort prolonging the existence of such languages while virtually nobody studies them rather than getting on with the research.

    Wim, I wonder what you suppose my background is?

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  18. I disagree with some of your claims of why arguments do not stand.

    Languages have their own concepts that just can’t be expressed in other languages
    This is very cheaply solved: assign a bunch of letters in the conceptually impoverished language to said concept.

    I think you are vastly underestimating the cost of this action. Simply assigning random letters to a concept doesn’t teach it to people. Also, this assumes you already know which concepts can’t be expressed – simply identifying the missing concepts between a pair of languages is a major scholarly effort. After that major effort, then you can start the assigning new terms and teaching them to people effort, which may be complicated by detailed/complex missing concepts that depend on simpler missing concepts.

    The only loss is of historic data, but recording is relatively cheap.

    Either your definition of relatively cheap is vastly different than mine, or you are seriously underestimating the cost of recording the actual cultural content

    Since the actual sounds used by a language are arbitrary, it is very difficult, or maybe even impossible, to decode a language without already recorded translations. So, we cannot simply record cultural artifacts as they are in their original language, because we also need a way to decode it later. If that language also contains concepts that are missing from the global language of choice, then you also face the problem of how to record those concepts in a way that is decodeable in the future.

    In fact, currently, languages are disappearing faster than we can record them. The question then is whether it is cheaper to slow down the rate of disappearance or speed up the rate of recording. I think the former is cheaper because it requires less specialists.

    If literature of the dying language wasn’t considered worth translating to the new language, how can it be worth the much larger cost of maintaining a population of people speaking the old language?

    Do you have any evidence on how large each of these costs are? From my priors, I would expect the cost to maintain a population of people still speaking the old language to be smaller than the translation cost, but perhaps I am only thinking of costs over the next century rather than all of the future.

    Note: I assume that the population speaking the old language are also able to be fluent in other, more common languages. It is my understanding multi-lingualism is more common outside of the US than only knowing one language. Obviously an isolated community speaking only the rare language would be more expensive to maintain.

    It seems like a couple of commenters, and perhaps the original poster, assume you can easily create new, unique languages, whether for artistic or conceptual reasons, perhaps even at random. The problem with that assumption is that you need to know what the possible dimensions of a concept are, so that you can pick them randomly. If a currently dying language contains concepts or ways of thinking that are truly unique, then whatever dimension makes those concepts unique might be lost as well when the language does.

    In addition, even if we have representations that might theoretically allow all possible concepts, (for example, all possible tapes for a universal turing machine), we’d be losing the time spent identifying the useful concepts from the useless ones.

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  20. Alex has a point, and I think multi-lingual individuals benefit from having a greater demand on their cognitive resources, but not being a linguist……..
    I think language is a more complex question, the deaf/hearing paradigm is more of a zero-sum problem:

    The difference between ‘choosing to remain deaf’ and ‘making someone deaf,’ is that it requires effort to ‘make someone deaf;’ the state of deafness is equally undesirable in both cases, but in changing TO a deaf state, you are expending energy for a negative outcome, so it signals the desirability of the that substandard state.
    So people choosing a deaf baby might not be as offensive to us, because it is a (semi-)default state.
    Avoiding the effort (real or perceived) involved in making the transition to a more desirable state (hearing,) is a “sin of omission.” Of course, this argument is anti-consequentialist in general, not just in the specific…..

    also, there is the assumption that people “rejected” the previous culture, rather than being forced —by other people or by circumstance– to adopt the
    lingua franca of the “reigning” culture. So the compensation is a natural one (which may or may not be useful.)

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  21. My maternal grandfather’s first language was Ladino, which will be extinct within a couple of decades because all its native speakers are now elderly. This is a pity, and I agree that the literature of Ladino should be preserved for future scholarly interest, but I can certainly understand why speakers of Ladino chose not to pass on to their children a language that would be useless to them as soon as they stepped out of the house (quite literally).

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  22. > I listen to a lot of talks by foreign students and it always > seems terrible that they put so much effort in, and yet much of > the content is lost on me for lack of coordination in vowel > pronunciation and syllable emphasis.

    That’s not because *learning a language* is so difficult, but because *english* is particularly difficult (even more if you don’t have decent subtitles with you film and TV), and sometimes doesn’t have words for what they want to say

    > Machine Translation is getting better extremely rapidly, but only > between languages for which we have large datasets (i.e. webpage > corpra) on which to train computers in an automated fashion.

    I assume you live in a monolingual environment….because if you had learned at least a second language seriously, you would know that some things are virtually untranslatable, even for humans.

    As to sign languages: I think there’s hundreds of those around.

    As to plasticity of childrens’ brains: I started learning english and french at the age of 12, which worked out fine. Started learning esperanto at 19, worked out equally fine.

    Richard said:
    >Experience with public debate and public opinion over the > free-market economics suggests that it will be hard to convince a > lot of people that part of the reason English and the other “world > languages” continue to grow is that people freely choose to learn > them and have their kids learn them without any coercion or > oppression involved.

    I’m not sure what you’re saying…. Most people who learn a language do so because they have to. Either because it’s mandatory in school, or because of economic/social pressure. Sometimes they’re not even allowed to learn the language that is spoken in walking distance..

    As to having children learn languages, people learning artificial languages, and creating a situation where everyone can talk with everyone, I think Esperanto (although it needs some additions) is the best place to start

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  23. “Since most people mainly experience one language” – false. Over sixty percent of the human race speaks more than one language.

    – I find a lot of people who think that language revitalisation is a waste of time seem to also work on the presumption that monolingualism is the norm. If it were the norm they would have a point – it would be right for everyone to raise their child in the dominant and more useful language……. if this presumption were true, but its not. I don’t know where so many people get this false perception from.

    But if bi-/multilingualism is the norm, as it is for most of humanity, then what difference does it make bringing up a child in an extra minority language? Especially if you live in a community where you know they will also pick up the dominant language anyway?

    In fact, if I had the option of raising a child bilingually would that not indeed be preferable? Even if one of the languages were a minority language?

    Criticism of raising a child with a minority often makes the presumption that it will be at the exclusion of the dominant language, rather than being in addition to it. I think this mischaracterisation comes from the “monolingualism is the norm” presumption outlined above, ie. that it is only possible and normal to know just one language well. This is not the case, especially for young learners. A small amount of research (or travel) would alert you to this. A lot of your criticisms of fall apart once you use “bi-/multilingualism. is the norm” as your starting point.

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  26. Ken Westmoreland

    There is a degree of romanticism about endangered languages, and their speakers, who a lot of Western liberals seem to look on as noble savages. However, what do you define as ‘rare’? And why do you assume that people who speak that language are monolingual in it? There is such a thing as bilingualism or multilingualism, and for millions of people, it’s the norm.

    The idea that if you speak a ‘rare’ language you are cut off from the world and are some kind of reactionary inbred is something that the Jacobins in France believed – why are people still peddling 1790s solutions to 21st century problems?

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  30. Throughout this article, bilingualism is not even considered as an alternative. The truth is that it is possible to know a regional minority language and speak a lingua franca at the same time. From what I know, examples include Spain, India, etc.

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