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Nov 21, 2011
This week's theme
Words borrowed from languages that are now extinct

This week's words

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If you speak English, you know a little of more than a hundred languages. That's because English has borrowed words from so many languages around the world. Through trade, conquest, colonialism, etc. it came in contact with other languages.

When two languages rub against each other, as with humans, there is a certain give and take. Languages exchange words. English has many words from Latin, Greek, French, and Spanish, but it has also borrowed from languages as obscure as Basque (chaparral), Tongan (taboo), and Shelta (moniker).

When English meets with another language, the other language usually ends up badly. That's the downside to the spread of English. It enjoys a certain prestige among languages and everyone wants to learn it. It opens more opportunities. With each successive generation, interest in one's native language declines and eventually there's no one left to speak the tongue.

That makes the English-only agitation in a few states around here ludicrous. English is alive and well and thriving. Linguistic diversity is a good thing. Already a language dies every other week, and with it a whole culture. And as anthropologist and explorer Wade Davis so well describes it, "a language is not just a body of vocabulary or a set of grammatical rules, ... but an old growth forest of the mind."

Fortunately, there's growing recognition of the widespread language death and as a result efforts to do something about it. For example, interest in native languages has been growing and they are now being taught to young people.

This week we'll feature words borrowed from languages that are now extinct.



noun: A local political boss.

Via Spanish from Taino cacike (chief). Earliest documented use: 1555. Taino is an extinct member of the Arawakan language family spoken in the West Indies.

"About a month after Mayor Daley announced his retirement, many aldermen are still too stunned to know how to function without being bossed. 'Not being told what to do by the cacique is new to a lot of people,' Mr. Munoz said."
Dan Mihalopoulos; Daley's Tenure Nears End; The New York Times; Oct 8, 2010.

See more usage examples of cacique in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

We are social creatures to the inmost centre of our being. The notion that one can begin anything at all from scratch, free from the past, or unindebted to others, could not conceivably be more wrong. -Karl Popper, philosopher and professor (1902-1994)

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