Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Population Size = Cultural Influence

Case study #1: the world's richest nations can't function without a steady stream of foreign-born workers with handful of noticeably different cultural practices from the native population.
Immigrants account for 16.8 percent of Germany’s workforce, according to 2008 data from the Federal Statistical Office. In Sweden, 15.4 percent of the labor force was born elsewhere. Both countries have unemployment rates -- 7.5 percent in Germany and 7.4 percent in Sweden -- below the European Union’s 9.6 percent average.
Politicians hostile to migrants often target Muslims in their policy proposals. The minority Dutch government that depends on parliamentary support from the anti-immigrant Freedom Party plans to ban full-face Islamic veils. A referendum held last year in Switzerland banned the construction of minarets.
Polls show as many as 70 percent of Germans at least partly support former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin, who published a book in August that said Turks and Arabs are making Germany “dumber” and living off the welfare state.
The Sweden Democrats, which won 20 seats in the 349-member parliament, ran a television commercial in the runup to the Sept. 19 election showing burqa-clad women knocking over an elderly lady as she tried to pick up her pension check. 
Here, the dominant cultures in the European states ban symbols of the immigrant cultures out of fears of the immigrant cultures dominating in the future.

Case study #2: Organization studying dying languages accidentally stumbles upon "lost" Koro language in rural India.
In “The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages,” published last month by National Geographic Books, Dr. Harrison noted that Koro speakers “are thoroughly mixed in with other local peoples and number perhaps no more than 800.”
Moreover, linguists are not sure how Koro has survived this long as a viable language. Dr. Harrison wrote: “The Koro do not dominate a single village or even an extended family. This leads to curious speech patterns not commonly found in a stable state elsewhere.
By contrast, the Aka people number about 10,000 living in close relations with Koro speakers in a district of the state of Arunachal Pradesh, where at least 120 languages are spoken. Dr. Anderson said the coexistence of separate languages between two integrated groups that do not acknowledge an ethnic difference between them is highly unusual.
As Dr. Harrison and Dr. Anderson expanded their research, comparing Koro with several hundred languages, they determined that it belonged to the Tibeto-Burman language family, which includes 400 tongues related to widely used Tibetan and Burmese. But Koro had never been recognized in any surveys of the approximately 150 languages spoken in India.
The effort to identify “hot spots of threatened languages,” the linguists said, is critical in making decisions to preserve and enlarge the use of such tongues, which are repositories of a people’s history and culture.
In the case of Koro speakers, Dr. Harrison wrote in his book, “even though they seem to be gradually giving up their language, it remains the most powerful trait that identifies them as a distinct people.” 
Here, we see that the vast range of human languages (and by nature, group distinctions) may, in some cases, be held by fewer than 100 people.

Although the world population has grown to nearly 7 billion people, not every self-identified cultural/tribal groups has grown accordingly - after all, there are a lot more Mandarin-speaking Han Chinese than Koro-speaking Indians.

So like the classic model of natural selection, the more "powerful" languages tend to dominate and ultimately drive other language groups into extinction (see also the history of the European settlers in the American continents). Because most language groups have distinct cultures attached to them, the largest, strongest languages have their cultural artifacts (literature, self-written histories/mythologies, religious texts, stories, jokes, pop culture references, idioms, collective ways of thinking, etc.) come to dominate and replicate with generation upon generation born and raised into the language/culture group.

Thus, whatever the largest languages in the world become in the future, the histories written and remembered about today and yesterday will be shaped accordingly. Whether we're talking about a relatively insignificant language in a backwater region of India, or the latest chapter in the Christian-Muslim "Clash of Civilizations" storyline, the ebb and flow of hundreds of "us vs. them" battles between different groups in the same geographic areas will steer the course of the future - and what we remember about the past.

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