Archive for October, 2009

Native languages of Canada

Posted on October 11th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, English, French, Indigenous languages | 2 Comments »

Assembly of First NationsAfter graduating from university, I had the opportunity to live in Canada for a year.

My knowledge of the country was pretty limited, to the extent that I didn’t know it is officially bilingual (French and English). I found an article discussing efforts to preserve indigenous Canadian languages interesting. The two official languages are supplemented by a range of indigenous languages, which do not get as much attention as French. (Note: “First Nations” refers only to the Indian aboriginal people of Canada. For more information, see here.)

By official count, there are more than 50 First Nations languages across Canada.

Some are thriving.

The Cree, for example, have as many as 80,000 everyday speakers. Dozens others, though, are in danger of disappearing. In 1998, the Assembly of First Nations declared a state of language emergency.

First Nations people aren’t the only ones concerned about the vanishing words. Linguists frantic to preserve the historical tongues are furiously collecting and recording data before all those speak them pass away.

“There’s a sense of desperation, of our data disappearing before our eyes, ” laments aboriginal language expert Darin Flynn from the University of Calgary.

Southern Alberta provides an example of the dangers facing First Nation languages across the country.

The Treaty 7 languages – Tsuu T’ina, Stoney Nakoda and Blackfoot – are each at different stages of decline. (Source:

Let’s hope that all the effort put in to bilingualism in Canada will also recognise these indigenous languages. Read the full article here.

Hangul and native languages

Posted on October 9th, 2009by Michelle
In Alphabet, Culture, Indigenous languages, Korean, Language acquisition | 2 Comments »

Following my earlier post about Hangul Day, or Korean Alphabet Day, I was reading further about the alphabet.

The Koreans have immense pride in their alphabet, and are keen to share it. One woman also thinks Hangul’s use can be extended outside of Korea. The Hunminjeongeum Research Institute was founded by Lee Ki-nam in 2007, and aims to apply Hangul to native languages which are becoming extinct due to a lack of their own writing system. Currently, the Institute has a memorandum of understanding with the city of Bau-Bau of southwestern Indonesia to use Hangul, and it is being used by the Cia-Cia tribe to transcribe their language.

There are some issues surrounding the project however:

In Indonesia, where the government is encouraging its 240 million people to learn a “language of unity,” Bahasa Indonesia, for effective communication among a vast array of ethnic groups, Ms. Lee’s project raises delicate issues.

“If this is a kind of hobby, that’s fine,” Nicholas T. Dammen, the Indonesian ambassador to South Korea, said recently, referring to the decision by the Cia-Cia ethnic minority to adopt Hangul. “But they don’t need to import the Hangul characters. They can always write their local languages in the Roman characters.”

Shin Eun-hyang, an official at the Korean language division of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in Seoul, said: “This is diplomatically sensitive. The government is limited in how much direct support it can provide to such projects.”
The government says it does not provide money to Ms. Lee’s group, but she said it offered indirect support by giving linguists grants to pursue their work, which can include teaching Hangul abroad. (Source: New York Times)

Read more about the Cia-Cia project, and the full article from the New York Times. What do you think? Is it appropriate to apply the Korean alphabet to completely different languages?

Happy Hangul Day!

Posted on October 9th, 2009by Michelle
In Alphabet, Culture, Events, Historic | 1 Comment »

HangulToday in South Korea is Hangul Day, or Korean Alphabet Day.

The day celebrates the invention and proclamation of hangul, the native Korean alphabet. The Koreans are the only people in the world to celebrate their alphabet, and are justifiably proud of it!

Hangul was devised by King Sejong the Great, and revealed in 1446. Previous to this, there was no written Korean alphabet, and the few elite that could write relied on modified Chinese characters.

Hangul Day has been commemorated on various days since, but October 9th was marked as the official national holiday in 1945, after the creation of the South Korean government. Although it no longer retains its status as a holiday, October 9th is still a national commemoration day in South Korea.

Originally consisting of 28 letters, modern Hangul now has 24, 14 consonants and 10 vowels. The letters are combined together into syllable blocks. Korean can be written in horizontal lines running from left to right, or in vertical columns running from top to bottom and right to left. The alphabet represents all the sounds of Korean and is reportedly easy to learn!

The survival of Yiddish

Posted on October 7th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, German, Yiddish | Leave a Comment »

A friend has brought to my notice an interesting programme on the BBC World Service (also available on the BBC website) about the Yiddish language.

Once a German dialect, Yiddish (literal translation “Jewish”) developed into a full language over the course of a millennium. Whilst the early history of the language is uncertain, it’s thought that it grew from a distinct Jewish culture called Ashkenazi in Germany in the 10th Century. At its height, more than ten million people spoke or understood the language.

Events in the 20th Century meant that many Yiddish speakers were killed and those remaining assimilated in to different cultures and languages. Today it’s estimated there are 3 million speakers worldwide.

In the first part of the programme:

Dennis Marks travels to New York to discover what has become of Yiddish and how much of the language survives today.

On the Lower East Side, where many Jewish migrants first came to live, he finds a musical and theatrical tradition which once supported a dozen Yiddish theatres on 2nd Avenue.

He hears from the publisher of The Forward, once the world’s most popular Yiddish newspaper, but which is now in seemingly terminal decline.

And he explores the enormous influence of Yiddish culture on American life, its literature and its comedic tradition. (Source: BBC World Service)