Posted by Justyn Makarewycz on March 20, 2009
The day before St. Patrick’s Day, before onlookers lined Fifth Avenue in Dr. Seuss hats and everyone’s Éire went brách by midnight, the Washington Times reported that in Ireland today, only 30,000 fluent speakers of Irish (Gaelic) remain. Irish is just one of thousands of languages dying today, and with less languages around, the world is losing out on the benefits of a diversified media, marketing and communications economy.
30,000 fluent Gaelic speakers represent an 88% decrease of Irish speakers from the country’s independence in 1922, even though Ireland’s population increased 25% in the same period. Despite Irish’s status as an official language of Ireland and the European Union, its real implementation is limited to road signs and compulsory grammar-school courses, and is sure to be extinct by the early part of this century.
Forgetting the cultural loss for the linguistic world as Irish dies, there is an economic consideration that media, marketers and communicators should remember in losing a potentially vibrant marketing and communications industry in Ireland. But Ireland’s largest Irish-speaking area, Donegal County, is not alone. Since 1996, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has maintained an Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, and most recently reported that half of the world’s existing languages may disappear by the end of this century.
Together with visual communication, language is the core of marketing communications. With fewer languages available to express ourselves, what opportunity costs are we incurring from the decline of global languages? I believe there are many.
If India loses its 2.7 million speakers of Gondi, would it effect their world-renowned and booming music and entertainment industries? I would have to say yes.
As Belarusian – an East Slavic language that is not Russian – moves toward extinction, has the opportunity for the nation to develop a robust Belarusian-language media and marketing-communications industry vanished because oft the the dominance of the Russian language in that country? Absolutely.
Let’s consider the economic opportunity to keep these languages alive.
A good example is French in Quebec. Had Quebec’s strict but effective language policies of the last century not been implemented to make French the lingua franca in the province, there is no doubt Quebec’s economic importance to Canada would have been affected. These policies have supported a vibrant market of Francophone media, advertising agencies, music companies and communications firms that drive consumerism and brand loyalty just within the Quebecer market in French. These could have easily been maintained by an English language agency based in Toronto, but instead developed into a successful industry.
Our world’s linguistic abilities are funneling to a few dozen languages. Let’s just hope these languages become richer as their populations grow. Much has been lost to get there.