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Desert Diary


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Mankind differs from all other animals by possession of language. Although many other animals can communicate basic information, such as "feed me" or "danger", no other kind even begins to approach human ability to communicate. Communication is the basis of humans as social animals at all levels, from hunter-gatherer societies to the most complex civilizations.

Language appears to be hard-wired into our genetic makeup. There is no group of people who do not speak one or more of the estimated 6000 or so languages. But in common with many of our animals and plants, extinction stalks the world's languages. As dominant societies spread, the younger generation learns only the language of that culture. As a result, many tongues are spoken by only a few hundred individuals, all above 40 years old.

The Chihuahuan Desert region is not immune. Likely we never will know how many local languages have become extinct since European contact. But as Spanish and English are established among the younger folk, it seems only a matter of time until those are the sole surviving languages.
pen and ink

Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

languages graphic

Graphic symbolic of exotic languages.



Web Resources

The Rosetta Project