Leora Bar-el
Photo: Göteborgs Stadsbibliotek

"Linguistic diversity provides a key to understanding the human mind"


Leora Bar-el is a professor in linguistics at the University of Montana, USA. On October 10, she gave a guest lecture at the City Library in Gothenburg about linguistic diversity.

What sparked your interest for the research area linguistics from the beginning?

– Although I grew up in a multilingual family, I had never heard of linguistics until my first year of university when I was reading through the course catalog and found an introduction to linguistics course. I was intrigued. I took the course and I was hooked. It changed the way I looked at the world!   

The title of your speech is Dispelling myths about language – why we need linguistic diversity”. What would say are the biggest threats against linguistic diversity today?

– It is difficult to be brief in a response to this question, but I’ll give it a try :) Speakers of dominant languages and dialects often put pressure on those of less dominant languages or dialects. But it’s a misconception that one language can only flourish at the expense of another. The fact is that languages can thrive alongside one another!   

Why is this diversity so important?

– For so many reasons! For speakers and communities, language is a form of identity, so reducing linguistic diversity amounts to reducing a part of who someone is. This is why language is protected by the UN Declaration of Human Rights. For linguists, linguistic diversity provides a key to understanding the human mind! And as David Crystal puts it: “If diversity is a prerequisite for successful humanity, then the preservation of linguistic diversity is essential, for language lies at the heart of what it means to be human”   

What can be done to protect it?

– Communities around the world are working tirelessly to bring endangered languages back into regular use. Communities, sometimes in collaboration with researchers, are documenting endangered languages by recording the remaining, often elderly, speakers. But really everyone can help protect linguistic diversity by learning more about it and changing our attitudes about diversity. 


Text: Janna Roosch

Guest lecture: “Dispelling myths about language – why we need linguistic diversity”

Date: 10 oktober

Time: 12:00-13:00

Venue: Trappscenen, City Library, Götaplatsen

More about the lecture: