Marcelo Dascal
Endangered Languages

A Cognitive Argument

Innovation and creativity are essential conditions for our lives. It is because humans were able to improvise (e.g., to adopt different diets in different regions and under different conditions) that we survived, while many other species did not.

Creativity means the ability to see things from different perspectives, rather than being enclosed in a single frame of mind. Humor exemplifies and enhances that ability. Non-creative persons lack humor. Species other than homo sapiens, seem to lack humor too.

Recent research has shown that bilingualism enhances that ability too. It trains the mind to shift from one way of conceptualizing something to another, often quite different one.

The ability to "wear the shoes" of another, to try to view things as someone very different from oneself does, not only facilitates mutual understanding in interpersonal relations. It also enriches cognition, providing often unexpected alternatives.

One such example is the alternative we have been exploring thanks to our willingness to consider what Iatiku (12k) had to say about the plurality of languages.

Remote and 'exotic' cultures and languages may seem, at first, of interest to us only as curiosities. When studied more closely, however, they may prove to be relevant to us in a deeper sense. We may come to realize, through their radically different viewpoint, that ours is not the only way to see and interpret the world. Here is a touching testimony of American researchers who devoted decades of their life to studying Maya culture.

Before writing this book, we studied the beliefs the ancient Maya recorded in their art and architecture as if they were part of the fascinating alternate reality that had little relevance to our personal lives. We did what scientists are supposed to do-keep an objective distance. Like the majority of our colleagues, we were secure in the superiority of our own worldview. Preparing this book has changed our attitude. We now come to this alien world with respect and awe, knowing that the worldview created by the Maya was, and is, just as powerful, meaningful, and viable as our own.

D. Friedel, L. Schele, J. Parker

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