Archive for the ‘Indigenous languages’ Category

The Isle of Man and Manx

Posted on December 22nd, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

The writer of one of my favourite travel blogs recently visited the Isle of Man, and listed eight things you may not know about it (the first being that it exists).

It’s been established previously on this blog that the Isle of Man does in fact exist, and the language of the island is Manx. Unfortunately the last native speaker of the language, Ned Maddrell, died in 1974. The video below has audio of Ned speaking the language.

Revival of the language on the Isle of Man has been reasonably successful in recent years, with an immersion school and radio broadcasts, as well as being taught as a second language at all schools. It’s also recognised under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Indigenous language: Yiddish

Posted on November 12th, 2011by Michelle
In Indigenous languages, Yiddish | Leave a Comment »

The excellent blog Indigenous Tweets has a fascinating interview with Jordan Kutzik, a fellow at the National Yiddish Book Center in the USA.

Kutzik explains the history of Yiddish, and how it was almost wiped out by the persecution of the Jewish people before and during World War II. He states that it was the strongest non-territorial language in the world and had a large literature, including some respected newspapers.

Now it is estimated there are around 250,000 Hasidic Yiddish speakers worldwide, with efforts being made to teach new generations the language. Kutzik explains the lack of internet resources in Yiddish and what efforts are being made to correct this, as well as his vision for the next 10 years. Read the whole interview, it’s well worth a look.

Language at risk because last two speakers aren’t talking

Posted on April 24th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

The old Mexican language of Ayapaneco is in danger of dying out as its last two speakers aren’t talking to each other.

Despite living close to each other in the village of Ayapa, southern Mexico, Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, don’t speak. It is not known whether they have a long-running feud or simply don’t like each other.

There is hope for the language however – a project is being run to produce a dictionary of Ayapaneco, which both speakers are assisting with. Interestingly, both Segovia and Velazquez call their language Nuumte Oote, which means True Voice. They tend to disagree on details of the language, which means that both versions will be included in the dictionary.

Whilst it’s a shame that Segovia and Velazquez don’t speak, hopefully they will be able to assist the project to complete the Ayapaenco dictionary and get others speaking the language before it’s lost forever.

(Source: The Guardian)

Vanishing voices

Posted on February 24th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

A fascinating video from Cambridge University shows some of the work of the World Oral Literature project.

The anthropologist Mark Turin discusses his work with speakers of Thangmi, spoken in eastern Nepal. Spoken by less than 20,000 people, the language had never been written down before. Children are learning only Nepali (the national language) in schools, so Thangmi has become endangered. Turin has produced a Thangmi-Nepali-English dictionary and has been working with the people for over a decade. He also does an excellent job of explaining why it’s important that endangered languages are documented and if possible, saved.

Watch the video below.

Database of endangered languages launched

Posted on December 11th, 2010by Michelle
In Indigenous languages, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Researchers have compiled an open database of the world’s endangered languages.

Developed by the World Oral Literature Project, based at the University of Cambridge, it is hoped that the database will allow crowdsourcing of information from around the globe. From the press release:

It includes records for 3,524 world languages, from those deemed “vulnerable”, to those that, like Latin, remain well understood but are effectively moribund or extinct.

Researchers hope that the pilot database will enable them to “crowd-source” information from all over the world about both the languages themselves and the stories, songs, myths, folklore and other traditions that they convey.

Users can search by the number of speakers, level of endangerment, region or country. In the United Kingdom, the site lists 21 disappearing languages, ranging from the relatively well known, like Scots and Welsh, to obscure forms such as Old Kentish Sign Language.
Where possible, the research team has also included links to online resources and recordings so that users can find out more. Their hope is that by making an early version of the database open to all, more people will come forward with information and references to recordings that they have missed.

Dr Mark Turin, Director of the World Oral Literature Project, said: “We want this database to be a dynamic and open resource, taking advantage of online technology to create a collaborative record that people will want to contribute to.”

UK-specific languages in the database include Panamanian Creole English (also known as Quashie Talk), Manx and Old Kentish sign language, a forerunner of British Sign Language. This seems like a great way to compile existing information on endangered languages, allowing for them to be better studied and hopefully revived by communities.

Revitalising the Vlashki language

Posted on September 27th, 2010by Michelle
In Indigenous languages, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

A New York City linguist is giving hope to a dying language in Croatia.

Zvjezdana Vrzic is originally from Croatia, and grew up in a household with Vlashki roots. The historical homeland of the Vlashki language (also known as Istro-Romanian) is the Istrian Peninsula in Croatia’s north-west. The language has been dying out since World War II, when emigration made the population smaller.

Vrzic initiated a project to save the language after she became a professor at New York University and connected with the community of Vlashki speakers in the city.

“I want to create a digital archive — a regional digital archive — where all the materials available on the language, including those that I’m collecting myself, will be deposited,” Vrzic says. “[I want to create] an archive that will become available to the community members. And I’m kind of bringing a different angle to it by making it very technologically-inspired.” (Source: Radio Free Europe)

Crucially, Vrzic realises that to save the language, the community needs to work to revitalise it. And it seems Vrzic has had some success – in Croatia her team is working with locals to plan a Vlashki heritage centre and has already organised well-attended language workshops.

To listen a proverb spoken in Vlashki, as well as a folk song, click here.

Spoken Here

Posted on September 14th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, Indigenous languages, Research | 1 Comment »

I’ve just finished reading a language book – Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages by Mark Abley.

We are frequently told about languages dying, and this book explores some endangered languages and what efforts are being made to preserve them. The languages range from Aboriginal Australia (Mati Ke and Murrinh-Patha) to Manx, the language of the Isle of Man located in the Irish Sea.

It’s not too difficult a read, as the focus is on the culture and people who speak the language rather than the technicalities of how it’s constructed. Whilst there is some discussion of grammar, luckily it’s not too technical. Abley’s passion for his subject shines through in the book and the humour he brings to situations is welcome. He doesn’t offer a solution to the ‘problem’ of disappearing languages, but shows what may happen when they are lost.

Has anyone else read the book?

Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes!

Posted on May 16th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, Indigenous languages, Research | 1 Comment »

don't sleepFollowing on from my last post about books on language, I’ve just finished reading Daniel Everett’s Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes.

Everett was a Christian missionary who intended to convert a small tribe of Amazonians called the Pirahã. The book traces a large part of his life as he lives with the Pirahã tribe and learns their language.

The book is split into two sections, with the first half focussing on Pirahã life and Everett’s experiences of living with them, and the second half on linguistic theory. Whilst for me it sometimes got a bit too technical in the second half, it’s well worth the effort to learn about the conclusions Everett has come to about the impact of culture on language, something that is not just applicable to the Pirahã, but all of us.

Has anyone else read the book? What did you think?

Death of the Bo language

Posted on February 5th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, Events, Hindi, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

Boa Sr - Bo languageBig 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.

More language maps

Posted on January 31st, 2010by Michelle
In English, Indigenous languages, Spanish, Technology | Leave a Comment »

I’ve been in Deep South of America for the past month, and it’s definitely been interesting to be surrounded by a range of southern accents. Some are so thick I can only nod and smile in response to comments!

It’s also been interesting to learn more about the many different languages people may not know are spoken in the US. Whilst Spanish is prevalent (even here in South Carolina, many miles from the Mexican border), a lot of minority languages are also spoken, including the many Native American tongues.

Whilst I’ll be looking at these further in future posts, for the moment I’d like to share this – a linguistic map of the states, showing indigenous languages, dialects and regional accents. You can also view maps of Canada, Asia, Europe and Africa. Incredible.