Should Threatened Languages Be Conserved?

Abstract
In this paper I examine the justification of proposals to conserve threatened languages, those in danger of dying out from the lack of primary speakers. These proposals presuppose that there is value in the continued existence of languages, and I explore the different kinds of value involved: instrumental, aesthetic, subjective, and cognitive, the last involving the ability of each language to express distinctive thoughts. The attempt to retain the cognitive value of a language underlies proposals to conserve a pool of primary speakers of threatened languages. Analyzing cognitive value in terms of Rolston’s systemic value flags a dual problem for conservation proposals: attempts to conserve the cognitive value of a language may be futile and attempts to defeat the factors creating the futility are morally problematic. The other values of language may still justify morally permissible projects to conserve or preserve threatened languages
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