Marcelo Dascal
Endangered Languages

An Ethical Argument

What prompts anthropological and field-linguistic research, and what permits cross-cultural communication along the pattern just described, is the assumption that the other, the different, are valuable, both for us and in themselves.

This means that we should suspend -- at least temporarily -- our tendency to consider ourselves 'superior' to the others, a tendency that yields what I call 'invidious comparison': "We" tend to think that we are the representatives of Reason, of Science, of Progress; whereas "they" are poor 'primitives' or dangerous 'barbarians'. And we do so, as we have seen, partly because we consider their different language unintelligible, and therefore 'inferior'.

If one adopts such a stance, what vaIue can we find in their culture and language, other than 'museum' value?' Only if we reject it can we understand that theirs is a way of life as legitimate as ours, and possibly superior to ours in many respects. But, most important, we must stay away of such tendentious comparisons altogether, and to understand that there are no such things as "primitive" languages, 'inferior' human beings, 'valueless' ways of life, and unimportant human suffering.

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