Language Needs to Change to Survive

Online Chinese has evolved a lot in the last few years, some might even say the language has “degraded” due to people’s tendency to abbreviate and modify for convenience and clever puns. I know I often get frustrated at how much the impeccable and classical style of traditional Chinese has been simplified to suit the online world’s need for speed and teenagers’ text-messaging temperaments.

Yesterday, while reading the memoir by highly-admired translation scholar Ji Xianlin (季羡林), I had a change of heart. He wrote of learning Tokharoi (吐火罗语) from an aging mentor, and what a honor it was, as the language was only known to a few people even back then. Mr. Ji is now 99 years old, should he pass away, would the language be lost along with him?

I had to google the name to even know which continent Tokharoi was from. Saddened by how Wikipedia calls it “extinct,” I’m reminded of how it’s much better to have a language that changes (however horrifyingly to language conservationists) and thrives, than to have a language fall into beautiful but frozen obscurity.


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