“A Language Can Live…But It Can Also Die”: Cross-Cultural Communication and National Identity

Take thirty seconds and write down as many languages as you can. Ready? Go!

You probably wrote down English (and any other primary languages you speak) first. After that, you most likely listed the foreign languages you studied in high school or college. Then you might have moved to other popular world languages: Mandarin, Russian, Spanish. But did you list Icelandic? Welsh? Haitian Creole?

According to the Linguistic Society of America, studies estimate that there are as many as six or seven thousand distinct languages spoken across the world. Exact numbers vary due to the difficulty of distinguishing languages from dialects and the challenges of learning about languages from remote regions—still, the number is immense! But as economic, political, and cultural borders begin to disappear, so do the languages that have held together different nations, peoples, and social identities. In an interdependent world, we must balance our need for cross-cultural communication with the need to maintain respect for regional languages, especially those that are in danger of extinction.

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Introduction to “Damn the Five-Paragraph Format to Hell”: Student and Faculty Perspectives of Writing

During my freshman year of high school, my history teacher gave the class our first writing assignment in preparation for the Advanced Placement World History exam. The prompt required students to analyze a small series of historical documents and evaluate Roman attitudes toward nomadic tribes (the “barbarians”) prior to the fall of the Empire. I wrote feverishly throughout our 42-minute class period, opening the essay with the invasion of Odoacer in 476 C.E., writing a thesis about Roman xenophobia, analyzing the historical evidence from the documents, and concluding the essay with the claim that based on their violence and prejudice against outsiders, the Romans, not the nomads, were in fact the “barbarians.” I finished the essay, flushed with freshman pride at how well I thought I had done. My teacher handed back the assignments at the end of the week with the AP rubric attached. Much to my surprise, my essay received only 5 out of 9.

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