Language Ecology and Language Zoology
by Reddon Toofenklau and Lex Talionis
There comes a stage in the development of any discipline when its practitioners, influenced by ideas current in other fields, take a metaphorical approach to their objects of study. Thus, in the 19th century historical linguists argued the merits of conceiving of languages as organisms. More recently, linguists of every stripe have launched such ideas as viewing languages as species, some of which are endangered, and of the ecology of language, a metaphor with many variants. Behind such metaphors, our authors point out, lies a particular social program with clear ideological trappings. This book wrings such metaphors dry, collects the juice, and throws away the pulp.
After a thorough survey of biological metaphors of language, our authors note that if a language is taken as comparable to a species, then this renders many preferred metaphors of linguistic ecology untenable. Instead, they show that on any accounting the view of a language as an organism is more tenable. However, there are many different kinds of organisms—plants and animals, herbivores and carnivores, and vertebrates and invertebrates. A similar division is shown to hold for human languages: Some languages are plant-like and others are animal-like, and of the animal-like languages some are herbivorous, some are carnivorous, and some, such as English, are omnivorous. Consequently, it is no surprise that some few languages are expanding at the expense of many others; after all, as biologists remind us, “Big Fierce Animals are Rare.”
The goal of preserving endangered language varieties current among contemporary linguists is then exhaustively demonstrated to be not ideologically neutral, as some of its propagandists would have it, but rather due to the surreptitious introduction of radical veganist thought into modern linguistic theory. Instead, if we consider a world in which Huba is being swallowed by Bura, Bura by Hausa, Hausa threatened by French, and French by English, just as animals eat other animals, then we can see the ideological pretensions of urging the lion to lay down beside the lamb.