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Jared Diamond On the Death of Multilingualism and the Birth of Klingon

LA’s favorite geography and physiology professor with a wicked Boston accent Jared Diamond made an appearance over the weekend at the LA Museum of Natural History’s “First Friday” gathering. Diamond gave a half-hour talk on the importance of preserving the world’s 7,000 different languages–6,800 of which, he says, are expected to go extinct by 2,100.

We asked Diamond his thoughts on the Internet’s capacity for language preservation. He had mixed feelings.

“On the one hand, whenever I email my friends in Ghana or New Guinea, I inevitably do so in English. The language of the Internet is English. And that is absolutely contributing to the disappearance of languages. On the other hand, modern technology allows linguists to capture and store endangered languages. If a language were to cease to be spoken, all it would take is a capable linguist and some curious youth looking to recapture a piece of their cultural identity and the language could be restored.”

Diamond also fielded questions from the audience–including this piece of brilliance.

“What do you think of the emergence of new languages like Esperanto and Klingon?”

Diamond is known for speaking at least 10 languages. We were sure hoping one of them would be Klingon. Sadly, he’s one of those geeks who uses his brain to travel the world and do “research,” instead of sitting at home in his underwear watching Star Trek and wishing he could be reborn as Data.

After a brief discourse on Esperanto’s inherent failure to satisfy the demands of being the world’s first linguistically unifying tongue, Diamond said: “I think it’s more important to focus on preserving the languages we already have.”

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