Dr. K. David Harrison, author of “When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge,” will visit UALR Oct. 26 and 27 to present a lecture and to screen the Emmy-nominated documentary, “The Linguists,” in which he stars.
Harrison, associate professor and chair of linguistics at Swarthmore College, will screen the film and engage in a question-and-answer session at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26, at the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall in UALR’s Fine Arts Building. The event, sponsored by the Donaghey Scholars Program and the Alumni Association, is free and open to the public.
Prior to the screening, UALR Alumni Association members and Donaghey Scholars and alums are invited to an exclusive book signing and reception at the Bailey Alumni Center. Contact the Alumni Association at 501-683-7208.
On Wednesday, Oct. 27, Harrison will present a lecture on endangered languages at 2 p.m. in Room 100 of Dickinson Hall. The event is free and open to the public.
The first 20 UALR students will receive a free copy of Harrison’s book, “When Languages Die,” courtesy of the Donaghey Student Committee. The lecture is co-sponsored by the UALR departments of English, Philosophy, Rhetoric and Writing, Sociology and Anthropology; the UALR Anthropology Club; and the Donaghey Scholars Student Committee.
Harrison is director and co-founder of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the documentation, revitalization, and maintenance of endangered languages.
Specializing in the languages of Siberia, Harrison earned degrees in linguistics from Harvard University and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He has conducted extensive fieldwork into the languages of the Altai Sayan group of Siberia, the Eleme, the Munda languages in India, the Kallawaya in Bolivia, and the Siletz Dee-Ni spoken by natives on the Northwest Plateau of Oregon; Washington; and British Columbia, Canada.
He has published widely in the fields of historical linguistics, descriptive grammar, morphology, verb typology, and the linguistics of Munda, Salishan, and Ogonoid languages.
“There’s a consensus (among linguists) that we are seeing an unprecedented pace of language extinction. And it is accelerating,” Harrison has said. “Of the world’s roughly 7,000 spoken languages, over half are spoken by only 0.2 percent of all the people on earth.”
He said nearly 80 percent of the world’s population speaks just 83 languages, a proportion that is growing as globalization and urbanization encourage migrants and rural outliers to learn the dominant tongue in lieu of their own. Every 14 days, estimates Harrison’s institute, a language dies.
Over the centuries, obscure dialects and isolated communities have come and gone, dispersed by conquest or ecological disaster. But linguists stress that something vital gets lost with the death of each oral language.
“Nearly half of the world’s languages are endangered and may vanish in this century,” Harrison said. “The loss to science, to humanity and to the native communities themselves will be catastrophic.”