ENDANGERED LANGUAGES: A SOCIOCOGNITIVE APPROACH TO LANGUAGE DEATH, IDENTITY LOSS, AND PRESERVATION IN THE AGE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Keywords:language death, culture, identity, cognition, sociolinguistics, artificial intelligence
Sociolinguists suggest language death entails significant cultural, personal, and ecological loss. Socio-cultural and socio-political factors exacerbate language erosion and encourage supplantation by another more dominant language. Hence, we ask: what are the sociocognitive principles which make language death hurtful and symbolic? Within this article, we attempt to outline a sociocognitive account of language death, situating the Hallidayan perspective of language as a “social-semiotic” system alongside a Cognitive Linguistic approach. We further contextualise language as inseparable from culture, drawing insight from the sociological thought of Bourdieu. We contend that language death entails psychological trauma, representing the destruction of cultural genealogy and the loss of knowledge intrinsic to personal self-imagery and identity. To this end, we present a case study of the Māori languaculture in Aotearoa (New Zealand), tracing the impact of colonialism and marginalisation to current efforts and ambitions to ensure the languacultural survival of Māori and reclaim space in Aotearoa as a respected knowledge system and means of expression, particularly in the socio-technical age of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Web. We argue that our analysis bodes practical implications for language maintenance and revitalisation, concluding that sociolinguistic practitioners should consider a socio-cognitivist as well as socio-technical paradigm for language intervention. In closing, we discuss leveraging AI technologies towards language heritage, archival, and preservation to limit the destructive impact of the death of a language.