Linguist K. David Harrison began his lecture Monday by teaching the Amphitheater audience the Koro greeting kaplaye, a word meaning “it is good” and “thank you.” He followed with a sobering fact: All speakers of the Koro language of India could fit in the first few rows of the Amphitheater.
When ideas go extinct, we all grow poorer. Half the world’s 7,000 languages now face extinction — a dramatic shift in human intellectual history. Our 21st-century world — replete with wondrous technologies — rests upon the foundation of all humankind’s prior wisdom and creativity. This human knowledge base is durable and, during 99 percent of human history, has been passed solely from mouth to ear. Yet it is fragile, mostly unwritten and vulnerable to forgetting.
It’s about people and their stories. For K. David Harrison, being a linguist means preserving stories, societies and rare languages….