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Old 09-19-2007, 08:38 PM   #1
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Every 2 Weeks, A Language Dies

Quote:
Researchers speak out on languages on brink of extinction

By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY

A new analysis pinpoints five regions in the world where native languages — each representing millennia of human knowledge — are most in danger of disappearing.

Linguists involved in the research conducted by the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages — a non-profit organization in Salem, Ore. — and National Geographic magazine are calling the crisis a global extinction.

Of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken today, one vanishes every 14 days when its last speaker dies, research shows.

Called hot spots by researchers, the areas most prone to losing their indigenous languages are located along historic migration routes or have been colonized, says Gregory Anderson, director of the institute.

The five hot spots are northern Australia; central South America (Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia); Northwest Pacific plateau (Washington, Oregon and British Columbia); eastern Siberia; and Oklahoma, along with parts of Texas and New Mexico.

In these places, colonial languages such as English, Spanish or Russian are considered more prestigious, researchers say.

Children quickly perceive which language is considered "better," and when they abandon the language, it no longer has a future, Anderson says.

In Oklahoma, for example, Native American languages from indigenous peoples and from tribes moved into the area by the U.S. government are endangered.

The rate of language extinction is increasing, proceeding much faster than that of animal or plant species, says K. David Harrison, co-director of National Geographic's Enduring Voices project and a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

Languages are great sources of information about the world their speakers inhabit. In Brazil, 4,000 people are left who speak Kayapo. Their language distinguishes between 56 types of bees — information that will be lost to biologists if the language dies, Harrison says.

"We're really in a position here of seeing a vast body of knowledge about plant species and ecosystem go," he says.

National Geographic has helped fund the Enduring Voices project, which sends researchers to find and document the last speakers of languages in critical condition.

In some cases, the last available information about the language is 30 to 40 years old, "so just establishing that there are speakers is a scientific finding," he says. For undocumented languages, just collecting the 100 most-common words is a big step, he says.

"Eighty percent of the world's languages have not been documented, so if they disappeared tomorrow, we wouldn't know anything about them," Anderson says.

Of the 231 languages spoken in Australia, at least 50 have never been written. A July trip by the researchers found and recorded a speaker of Amurdag, a language formerly believed to be extinct.


http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science...s_N.htm?csp=34


I think its a real shame and is very sad. Not only would these languages help scientists and researchers, but languages are what defines a culture. When the language dies so does the culture. I don't think it would mean as much if a ceremony or song is conducted in a more common language than if it were in its original, ancient language.
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Old 09-19-2007, 08:57 PM   #2
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I think that it's inevitable that with globalisation languages spoken by small tribes or small groupings will die out, and I'd probably on balance say that this is not necessarily a bad thing.

The Irish language is basically kept alive by government funding, and by the requirement that school teachers must display some level of competency.
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Old 09-19-2007, 09:00 PM   #3
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I agree that it seems inevitable. I'm willing to bet that many of these small languages contributed to some of the larger ones. Eventually, languages will become more and more global, and some will have to be left behind. This will occur with more speed as the world becomes more connected.
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Old 09-19-2007, 09:05 PM   #4
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Old 09-20-2007, 01:17 AM   #5
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^ Yes, in practice that's generally what it boils down to...how much social, political and economic power the speakers of the endangered language in question have within their native polity.

Hebrew is the only language to have ever been successfully revived on a large scale--that was through a highly unlikely combination of circumstances though.
Quote:
Originally posted by financeguy
The Irish language is basically kept alive by government funding, and by the requirement that school teachers must display some level of competency.
Do you see that as wasted time and money? and for Irish people whose first language is Irish, Irish people whose first language is English, or both?
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Old 09-20-2007, 04:41 AM   #6
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The Gaeltacht areas of Ireland are where the majority of people speak Irish as a first language...I've only stayed in a Gaeltacht area the once, so I can't greatly say more than that. I know some people take issue with the type of Irish being taught, An Caighdeán Oifigiúil "The Official Standard", made up with the multiple dialects, is in fact killing off most of the dialects.........the dialects do vary quite a bit from region to region.

In Northern Ireland there is even some government funding for Irish schools and what, I think Sinn Fein are pushing for Irish to be made the second language of the North....it's too much of a political tool up here.

I imagine there are no major objections to the promotion and funding support of the Irish language in the Republic....the people who have it as a first language obviously want the continued funding, and the rest of the population would probably take pride in the culture and heritage of the language. I don't think it is too much of a tax burden in the South, though maybe Financeguy can answer that better than I did!

As for the greater focus of this discussion, while I love the diversity of culture and language in the world, and in a perfect world I would love it to remain...it seems to be inevitable and the natural progression of things that cultures and languages die out. It's been happening for as long as humankind has existed, whether through military or commercial conquest. It's sad but a culture and language are always changing and are never static.
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Old 09-20-2007, 05:34 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by financeguy
I think that it's inevitable that with globalisation languages spoken by small tribes or small groupings will die out, and I'd probably on balance say that this is not necessarily a bad thing.

The Irish language is basically kept alive by government funding, and by the requirement that school teachers must display some level of competency.
I agree it may be inevitable that languages spoken by relatively small groups of people will die out, without intervention. I'm not sure how this is not necessarily a bad thing, though. If tradition, culture and the separate identity of different groups in society are important, so is language, in my opinion. Here in New Zealand, the Maori language is actively protected by the government. I think that this is a very good thing - not only does it help to preserve the cultural identity of Maori New Zealanders, it also gives "Pakeha" - New Zealanders of European descent - and people of other ethnicities a sense of national identity. I think minority languages are a valuable resource that deserve protection.
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Old 09-20-2007, 08:28 AM   #8
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I saw this in national geographic. I think its very said that the tradition of language gets lost somewhere. Its a shame that there isn't more that can be done to preserve language. Particularly, native american which was listed in the western united states. I guess I am a little biased because I have native american in my blood.
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Old 09-20-2007, 08:38 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by yolland

Hebrew is the only language to have ever been successfully revived on a large scale--that was through a highly unlikely combination of circumstances though.
I've been to the Jewish Museum on Tuesday and learned that a person from the 12th century, or even earlier, could still speak to a person from today and both would understand each other perfectly fine.
That's very fascinating, considering that I would have trouble to understand someone even from the 17th or 18th century.
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Old 09-20-2007, 12:26 PM   #10
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My mother was descended from Scots-Irish folks who settled in the Rockfish Valley in Virginia during the 1700s. With the effort involved in traveling outside of that valley (over the mountains), up to and including her generation, the residents continue(d) to pronounce the "ou" sound (as in "out", "about", etc.) in the Scottish form, which sounds more like "a-oot" and "a-ba-oot" with a long a sound). None of my cousins use that dialect, so when Mom's generation are all gone (I have one uncle and one aunt left), so will that accent be gone. Which I find very sad!
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Old 09-21-2007, 09:32 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by yolland
^ Yes, in practice that's generally what it boils down to...how much social, political and economic power the speakers of the endangered language in question have within their native polity.

Hebrew is the only language to have ever been successfully revived on a large scale--that was through a highly unlikely combination of circumstances though.

Do you see that as wasted time and money? and for Irish people whose first language is Irish, Irish people whose first language is English, or both?
I don't really have a problem with reasonable government subvention to the Gaeltacht areas(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaeltacht) - even in pure cost-and-benefit terms, there is a payback in terms of tourists visiting those areas and wanting to hear Irish actually being spoken - what I do object to is teachers being obliged to pass an exam in Irish before they are allowed to qualify, even if the subjects they plan on teaching don't include Irish.

As I understand it, this applies to both primary and secondary school teachers (though not university lecturers). As far as I am aware, the Irish exam for teachers is not particularly difficult, but the principle of forcing people to sit the exam is just wrong (except, of course, where they wish to become Irish teachers, but in that case the exam is far too easy, and certainly in no way a guarantee that a person passing it is proficient in the language)

It's particularly absurd to have this policy, at a time when there are plenty of well educated immigrants living in Ireland, some of whom would be well suited to teaching but are possibly put off by having to do an exam in a language they have no knowledge of, nor are they likely to ever use in day-to-day life (the Irish pupil-teacher ratio is fairly high, so we need all the good teachers we can get)
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Old 09-21-2007, 10:20 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally posted by mystery girl
I agree it may be inevitable that languages spoken by relatively small groups of people will die out, without intervention. I'm not sure how this is not necessarily a bad thing, though.
Well, what I meant was that, if languages spoken by small groups of people die out, it's sometimes because the native language is losing ground to a more 'globalised' language, and that trend may have certain economic benefits attached to it. It has been said that one factor behind the 'Celtic Tiger' - perhaps not a particularly important one, but a factor, nonetheless - is that it's probably been an advantage to Ireland, for example in attracting investment from US multi-nationals, that its inhabitants are fluent English speakers.

So, for the sake of argument, if Ireland had never been invaded by the Anglo-Normans and had kept its native language, we wouldn't necessarily all be fluent in English, and accordingly we wouldn't necessarily have derived so many benefits from globalisation. Of course I speak here purely of economic benefits, and not necessarily cultural ones.

Quote:
Originally posted by mystery girl
If tradition, culture and the separate identity of different groups in society are important, so is language, in my opinion. Here in New Zealand, the Maori language is actively protected by the government. I think that this is a very good thing - not only does it help to preserve the cultural identity of Maori New Zealanders, it also gives "Pakeha" - New Zealanders of European descent - and people of other ethnicities a sense of national identity. I think minority languages are a valuable resource that deserve protection.
That is genuinely very interesting. I was in New Zealand a few years ago, and tried to learn as much as I could about your country's history in the short space of time available to me. But I just wonder, isn't New Zealand a very specific case? Almost unique? What I mean is that New Zealand had no aboriginal population, but was initially 'colonised' by the Maoris who built up a strong culture. So when the Europeans arrived on the scene, they met a fairly strong and vibrant culture and a people that were not going to tolerate being treated as second class citizens in their own country. And quite rightly and properly, the Maoris have strong influence in modern day New Zealand, their own political party and of course they have retained their language.

By contrast, in Australia, a relatively advanced invading culture met a relatively primitive aboriginal culture and, unfortunately and inevitably, there was only one way to go for the latter. So I'm not surprised to learn that a lot of the aboriginal languages in Australia are dying.
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Old 09-21-2007, 10:43 PM   #13
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I'm hardly surprised that Aboriginal languages are topping the list. In New Zealand, I learnt Maori from my first day of primary school at age five. In fact, we even learnt a little bit of very basic Maori beforehand in kindergarten, and some Maori words have passed into English (I still only call sweet potato "kumara" and sometimes get confused when others don't call it that). However, when I moved to Australia ... it was like Aboriginal languages didn't even exist. I wasn't even aware of the wide diversity of Aboriginal languages until I hit grade nine history, and they certainly don't seem to be taught to students. I have seen almost zero interest even expressed in Aboriginal languages, let alone any pressure whatsoever to teach them. Learning Maori in school certainly stimulated an interest in Maori culture - for example, I'm very proud to be from where Te Rauparaha had his base. So I'm sure a similar interest in Aboriginal culture and languages would be stimulated in some students were it taught in Australia like Maori is in New Zealand.

The big problem is really the diversity of Aboriginal languages, i.e. which to teach, but Maori isn't a single static language either (the pronunciation town name "Oamaru" as "Omaru" is a prominent reflection of the North Otago dialect) and yet we don't have a problem teaching it nationwide. That may not be possible with Aboriginal languages, but at least some could be chosen to be taught in certain areas. Just like schools currently choose whether to teach Japanese or French or Indonesian on the basis of what teachers they employ, the same could be done with Aboriginal languages. At least get them out there and breathe some life into them.
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Old 09-22-2007, 06:56 AM   #14
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In school we learned very little about Aboriginal culture, including their languages - in fact we just learned very basic words that are quite internationally known. It was very depressing and almost made it seem as if there weren't any indigenous people in the area, while there actually still are plenty.
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Old 09-22-2007, 07:26 AM   #15
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Things like that grate me as well. We're meant to be multicultural, yet we're denying our own culture... it's annoying when things like the Cronulla Riots happen, when all the white Australians start saying "we grew here, you flew here" when all the 'white Australians' are technically not Australian. We're not the indigenous ones, we did not grow here. It makes me very sad. The only things I have learnt about Aboriginals is basic history in Primary School and watching Rabbit Proof Fence.
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