By Davey Young at A.C.E.
Last Friday, the 13th of March, the Seattle Times grimly reported that “foreign-language study is taking a big hit this year at the state’s community colleges and universities, as those institutions scramble to save money in the face of state budget cuts”. My heart immediately sank. In my opinion, foreign language programs are fundamental for the promotion of globalization and global awareness. Multilingualism ensures flexibility in international business spheres and creates opportunities that would otherwise pass by unseen. That is not to mention the intrinsic, holistic personal benefits of learning a foreign language.
The Times article later paraphrases Bob Stacey, the UW’s divisional dean of arts and humanities, as saying that that University’s plans to cut foreign language programs were in the works before the state budget cuts came down. However Stacey also claims that the cuts, which mostly affect the larger language programs like Spanish, are intended to preserve the wide range of languages offered at UW. While this may be preferable to cutting entire languages from the University’s offerings, fewer seats in languages of international import can still be detrimental. Similar cuts are being made at dozens of other state and community institutions.
In addition to the direct affects of funding cuts, entire languages are at risk as a result of globalization. This risk has less to do with the economic downturn and more to do with the fact that the process of globalization has encroached upon indigenous groups, endangering their cultures and facilitating the demise of their mother tongues. Yesterday morning I heard an interview on KUOW with Greg Anderson, the Director of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages in Salem, Oregon. He discussed the peril which hundreds of languages face: that of complete extinction as their only guardians, the last native speakers, die out, and their progeny are subsumed by a larger socio-linguistic culture. The Living Tongues website warns that half of the world’s spoken language may be lost in the next hundred years. The Institute’s mission is “to promote the documentation, maintenance, preservation, and revitalization of endangered languages worldwide through linguist-aided, community-driven multi-media language documentation projects”. To learn more about Living Tongues or make a donation, visit