Today is Commonwealth Day, so a good time to take a look at the languages of the Commonwealth I think!
Once known as Empire Day, Commonwealth Day celebrates the 54 countries that make up the Commonwealth of Nations. Most member countries are former British colonies, and so speak English as either a first or second language. About 30% of the world’s population live in the Commonwealth – that’s over 2 BILLION people.
Canada, Singapore, Australia and South Africa are some examples of Commonwealth countries which have developed their own version of English, whilst still preferring British spellings.
Brunei – Behasa Melayu; India – Hindi (official); Tonga – Tongan; Seychelles – Seselwa Creole and Malta – Maltese are examples of some other Commonwealth countries and their languages. India alone has hundreds of languages, although Hindi and English are the two official ones.
The Commonwealth Games are due to be held later this year in New Delhi, India, so I’m sure revisit the languages of the Commonwealth then!
Read the Commonwealth message from Her Majesty The Queen here.
Big news yesterday with the announcement of the death of another language.
Boa Sr, the last person fluent in the Bo language of the Andaman Islands, died and took with her an ancient tribal language. The Andaman Islands are a union territory of India in the Bay of Bengal.
The Bo language was one of the ten Great Andamanese languages, and took its name from a now-extinct tribe. The languages are thought to date back to pre-Neolithic human settlement of south-east Asia. Many of the indigenous languages survived unchanged for years, before the modern world encroached on the tribes that spoke them.
Linguists now hope that they can preserve other tribal languages, after Boa Sr spent her last years unable to converse with anyone in her mother tongue. She sounds like an incredible woman – speaking Hindi and another local language as well as songs and stories in Bo. She lived through the 2004 tsunami, reportedly climbing a tree to escape the water.
“Her loss is not just the loss of the Great Andamanese community, it is a loss of several disciplines of studies put together, including anthropology, linguistics, history, psychology, and biology,” Narayan Choudhary, a linguist of Jawaharlal Nehru University who was part of an Andaman research team, wrote on his webpage. “To me, Boa Sr epitomised a totality of humanity in all its hues and with a richness that is not to be found anywhere else.” (Source: The Guardian)
Listen to a clip of the Bo language at the BBC website.
First celebrated in 2001, the European Day of Languages has grown to encompass a whole week of events!
The first EDL was organised jointly by the Council of Europe and the European Union, who chose 26th September as the designated day. The aims of the day are:
To alert the general public to the importance of language learning
To promote linguistic and cultural diversity and increase intercultural understanding
To encourage lifelong learning
Watch Pedro Chavez from the European Commission talking about the day.
I recently posted about the proposed idea to adopt Latin as the official language of the European Union, but as I concluded then, the EU is committed to multilingualism, so it’s unlikely to happen. Europe is incredibly diverse, with around 225 indigenous languages as well as non-European languages such as Arabic, Hindi and Chinese.
So, get involved and become one of the many Europeans who are multilingual! Try here to find out what activities are happening near you – there are events all over Europe. And if you can’t make it to any of them, try some of these online activities.