overgenomen uit China Daily, 11 december 2000 (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndydb/2001/01/d5-4bro.105.html)
During the past century, due to a variety of factors, more than 1,000 of the world's languages have disappeared, and it is possible to foresee a time, perhaps 100 years from now, when about half of today's 6,000 languages will either be dead or dying.
This startling rate of linguistic extinction is possible because 96 per cent of the world's languages are now spoken only by 4 per cent of the world's population.
Globalization in the post-Cold War era has witnessed the coming of the information age, which has played an important role in promoting economic co-operation but which has, at the same time, helped facilitate the assimilation of smaller cultural systems into a larger, mostly English-speaking whole.
Internet and other forms of mass media have succeeded in making English the world- wide standard.
In 1998, the Seminar on Technological Progress & Development of the Present-day World was held in Northeast China's Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province. At the seminar, many participants expressed concern over the potential risks associated with excessive dependency on information technology. These critics claimed a move from "information monopoly" to "information hegemony," could possibly become just another way for the strong to dominate the weak, culturally as well as economically.
In other words, life in a technology- and information-based global society may lead to a new social stratification, in which linguistic assimilation will lead to cultural assimilation and social injustice will abound.
In the 20th century, human society's overdevelopment caused the deterioration of the environment and ecological imbalance. The extinction of myriad biological species aroused deep concern which led people to an understanding of the special importance of protecting rare animals and plants on the brink of extinction.
Now we face the question, is the maintenance of cultural and linguistic diversity as important as the preservation of pandas and Chinese white-flag dolphins?
Given the open society in which we live, or wish to live, this question becomes complicated. A balance must be struck between promoting international exchanges on the one hand, and taking measures to protect "small" languages on the other hand.
Most widely-used languages, such as the six working languages - including English and Chinese - used in the United Nations, have little to fear and need no special protection.
But for other, more marginal languages some measures should be taken. Professionals should be trained to study and use them in order to keep them alive. Effective measures such as bilingual or multilingual education should also be implemented to protect them from extinction.
To some, 6,000 may seem like an inexhaustible number of languages. To those same people, it may seem irrelevant if one or two of those languages ceases to be used.
But what many fail to realize is that language and culture are linked. Without one, the other dies, and so with the death of different languages we have the death of different cultures. The extinction of languages is equal to animal extinction in this respect. The fading away of a language, no matter how small, causes real damage to the "ecological balance" in the field of culture.
Ideally, native languages would be preserved in daily use by people within a certain ethnic group, with some of the larger languages, such as English, used as a lingua franca for communication between different peoples.
Returning to our original question: What is the proper attitude towards the global influence of English and English-based culture? Answering this question requires, first, an acceptance of the objective reality and subsequent adoption of a practical and realistic approach, followed by detailed scrutiny of the ways in which the English language and its attendant culture effect other languages and cultures.
It is an irrefutable fact that English is the most wide-spread and widely used language in the world. It is used in an official capacity in more than 60 countries.
The process by which English came to dominate globally is long and quite complicated.
Most obviously, the dominance of English is a direct consequence of the military and political expansion of colonialism. English-speaking religious missionaries have also helped spread the language through teaching of their texts. And a third factor is the fact that English-speaking nations have made a number of achievements in science, technology and economics - a situation which has made English a valuable means of communication.
This situation is not going to change any time in the foreseeable future.
Yet, the seemingly immutable dominance of English does not mean other languages should or will be forgotten.
Hope lies, ironically enough, in the Internet. Although the Web is currently the most potent force behind the expansion of the English language, it is also an open public information platform with no official language requirements. Information appearing on the Internet can be written in any language for any sort of audience.
Of course, this may be easier said than done. In China, for example, our information industry has run up against problems with poor Chinese-language Web content and poor organization of what little information is available. This is partly because most Internet software is written with English in mind. The Internet was designed for English.
But it is possible to prevail with work.
The most important task for China is to do its own things well. We should still encourage young people to learn English and other foreign languages, even some smaller languages, while also taking concrete measures to protect and develop national language and culture, and ethnic languages and cultures. Ethnic equality and plurality, and cultural and linguistic diversity will be essential for peace and harmony in a globalized, information-based economy and society.
Respect for and tolerance of the linguistic traditions of other people is indispensable.
It is linguistic and cultural diversity that makes the world's cultures interesting and colourful. The loss of a language or a culture means the loss of a distinctive feature of human civilization as a whole. It is our duty to protect those endangered languages and cultures with the aim that they can continue to blossom in our common world.
The author is the director of the Centre for Documentation and Information at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.