Archive for the ‘Indigenous languages’ Category

Be Fluent in Less Than a Day!

Posted on October 6th, 2013by Melanie
In Culture, Indigenous languages, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

LingalaFrom a trip to the Congo to study chimpanzees for the National Geographic to a conversation with a pygmy, Joshua Foer is now able to converse in Lingala, the lingua franca of the Congo basin, which he learned in just 22 hours. So how did that happen?

During his trip, Joshua stayed with a local tribe, the Mbendjele pygmies, and got to know them with the help of a translator. On his return home, he decided to take a new direction with his career and vowed to visit the tribe again but this time to stay with them and immerse himself completely in their lifestyle and culture. This meant learning the language universally spoken across northern Congo – Lingala – albeit not the first language of the pygmies.

With only a 1963 edition of the US Foreign Service Institute handbook and a scanned copy of the Lingala-English dictionary which consisted on 1,109 words, Joshua used a learning technique to get to grips with the language. Using a combination of mnemonics and an app resembling the fun of online gaming, Joshua was able to learn the 1,000 most common words of Lingala. Over the course of 10 weeks, the total time spent on learning added up to just 22 hours and 15 minutes, with 20 minutes being the longest period he’d spent studying the language at any one time and 4 minutes being the average time.

The trip back to the village showed his linguistic studies to be a success as he was able to converse with the tribe without the aid of a translator. So it just goes to show that you really can learn a language in under 24 hours!

What techniques have you used to help you learn a language? Would you, like Joshua, be up for the challenge of learning a foreign language in such a short space of time?


Posted on January 26th, 2013by jake
In Historic, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

Manx, the Celtic native language of the Isle of Man is experiencing a revival. Much like Welsh in Wales, when visiting the Isle of Man you will notice Manx road signs, radio shows and mobile phone apps. This wasn’t always the case though.

“If you spoke Manx in a pub on the island in the 1960s, it was considered provocative and you were likely to find yourself in a brawl,” recalls Brian Stowell, a 76-year-old islander who has penned a Manx-language novel, The Vampire Murders, and presents a radio show on Manx Radio promoting the language every Sunday.

Amazingly in the 1860s there were people on the Isle of Man who couldn’t speak any English. Immigration to England for work purposes spread English across the island. Gradually the Manx language fell out of favor and people who still spoke Manx were seen as backwards and were even sometimes physically assaulted. Things became so dire for the language that ‘Unesco pronounced the language extinct in the 1990s.’

The current revival is down to lottery and government funding which have made a remarkable impact upon the languages status in the last 20 years.

Now there is even a Manx language primary school in which all subjects are taught in the language, with more than 60 bilingual pupils attending. Manx is taught in a less comprehensive way in other schools across the island.

via: BBC News


Posted on November 18th, 2012by jake
In Culture, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

The Coushatta Indians are attempting to revive their naive language Koasati as the number of Koasati speakers has dramatically declined in recent years being largely replaced by English. In an interview with KPLCtv Bertney Langley, the heritage director of the Coushatta Indians, blamed the decline of Koasati speakers on the Coushatta tribe being small with many members marrying outside the tribe. As spouses from outside the tribe are unlikely to speak Koasati, English becomes the primary language.

Tribe leaders gathered to tackle the crisis five years ago and wrote the language down for the first time, choosing to transcribe Koasati using the English alphabet to facilitate learning. It is understandable why the tribe feel so strongly about retaining their language when later in the interview Langley says that tribe elders used to tell him that if the people lose their language ‘that we should not consider ourselves as Indian people’. The tribe now teach Koasati classes and have even created their own text books. Langley remembers as a child learning English and feeling as if a new world had been opened to him, he expresses hope that the younger generation now learning Koasati for the first time will have a similar feeling and will gain a greater understanding of their heritage.

[via KPLCtv]

How many South African languages are there?

Posted on July 8th, 2012by Michelle
In Afrikaans, Indigenous languages, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Can you guess?

If you guessed 11, you’d be right. The 11 official languages of South Africa are: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. Many countries have just one or two official languages (or in the USA, none at all). Some official languages are regulated by an authority, such as France’s Académie Française. South Africa’s languages are overseen by the government department PanSALB (Pan South African Language Board).

It seems that PanSALB hasn’t been too successful though, with the Economist reporting that it is underfunded and accused of being corrupt and mismanaged. So what’s the answer?

The Use of Official Languages Bill, introduced early this year, seeks to get government institutions using the native African languages more, alongside English and Afrikaans. But as South Africa has learned with PanSALB, implementation is the hard part. To improve, South African officials might see a model in India, whose 23 recognised languages—the most in the world—have found support in the respected Sahitya Akademi, the national academy of letters….

South African languages may too find greater support in groups founded and run by native speakers themselves, bottom-up and not top-down. The government might not have the resources or emotional investment to properly preserve and promote all of South Africa’s official languages. But at least the law gives all 11 languages equality in theory. Perhaps it’s time for indigenous language communities to make them more equal in fact. (Source: Economist)

A radical solution for saving languages

Posted on July 7th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Education, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

An Australian town has come up with a radical solution to revive the local Aboriginal language – and has had some amazing results.

The Wiradjuri language is learned by about 10% of the population every week in Parkes, a town in New South Wales. It’s taught in all primary schools as well as high school and TAFE colleges. Learning the language has taught much more than words – it’s given people a purpose, sense of culture and connection to their community.

Ron Wardrop was quiet for a while when I asked him why language mattered to him. “We need to keep the languages strong,” he said. “Like a river, the water tells a story, it just keeps flowing on and on, like generations of people telling stories. If that river dries up, then that knowledge and that flow of language and culture – which gives people a strong sense of connection to self and country – is going to die away. And that would be a sad thing.” Ron understands all too well what’s at stake when language and culture is lost. “If the kids don’t feel they have a sense of belonging, self, Aboriginality, then they feel they don’t have anything. And that’s exactly how I felt when I was a kid.” (Source: ABC)

This story just goes to show that there’s more to languages than words – they can have a much wider benefit.

Australia’s linguistic diversity

Posted on June 24th, 2012by Michelle
In Indigenous languages, Research | Leave a Comment »

Data from last year’s census has been revealed, showing Australia’s linguistic diversity.

Just over 20% of households across Australia report speaking more than one language at home, with the most commonly reported languages being Mandarin, Italian, Arabic, Cantonese and Greek. In major cities Melbourne and Sydney, this rises to over 30%, with some areas of Sydney at 85%.

Indigenous languages are also represented in the data, with Warlpiri spoken in 2500 dwellings, Djambarrpuyngu in 3000, and Pitjantjarjara in 4000. English-based creoles spoken in a number of communities are also reported, with Kriol spoken in 6800 dwellings.

All this means that around 1 in 5 people in Australia speak another language. I wonder what the comparable data is for the UK?

(Source: Fully (sic) )

Less-spoken languages

Posted on June 8th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

Think you know your languages?

Try this BBC quiz and see how you get on! I scored a dismal 2 out of 7, despite all the time I spend reading and writing about languages. I obviously need to pay more attention!

New hope for Welsh?

Posted on April 29th, 2012by Michelle
In Indigenous languages, Language acquisition, Welsh | Leave a Comment »

There is renewed hope for the future of the Welsh language following the Welsh language commissioner’s first speech earlier this month.

Meri Huws is the first Welsh Language Commissioner, and her duties include promoting and facilitating use of the language, conducting inquiries and working towards Welsh being equal with English. Huws’ first speech highlighted these duties as she spoke of her vision that Welsh speakers have the confidence to use the language and trust that any prejudice would be rectified by law.

About 21% of the population of Wales speak Welsh, according to the Welsh government. There is a wide range of views on the future of the language, with some welcoming the Commissioner’s policies, others seeing them as a burden on small businesses or that Welsh is a dying language not worth saving.

The appointment of Meri Huws may herald an increase in the number of language commissioners across the UK, with Scotland and Northern Ireland watching closely; there is an argument that commissioners should also be established in England to help protect minority languages.

(Source: Guardian)

Language diversity

Posted on March 7th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

Ever wondered which are the most linguistically diverse countries in the world? Well, look no further.

Ethnologue’s language diversity chart (pictured, via The Economist) shows that Papua New Guinea and Congo are the most diverse. Papua New Guinea has an incredible 830 indigenous languages! The chart is based on the number of languages spoken in a country and Greenberg’s diversity index, which “scores countries on the probability that two citizens will share a mother tongue”. That explains why Congo is second on the list despite having a mere 215 indigenous languages compared to third-place India’s 438.

At the bottom of the scale is North Korea, with one indigenous language spoken and a score of nil on the diversity index.

Heritage languages and technology

Posted on December 30th, 2011by Michelle
In Indigenous languages, Technology | Leave a Comment »

There’s been a lot written about endangered and indigenous languages, but I haven’t seen them referred to as “heritage” languages before, as they are in this interesting New York Times article.

The article describes N’Ko, the standardised writing system for Mande languages, which are mainly spoken in West African countries. Mande languages include Mandika, Marka and Jula. N’Ko was invented in the 1940’s to help native speakers read and write in their own language. This is particularly important as dominant languages like English are seen as the lingua franca of the world.

N’Ko is now available for people to use on their computer and mobile phone; Windows 8 apparently irons out the problems with the script from Windows 7, and it’s possible to download an app for phones and iPads. This could be the future of heritage languages – enabling them in new technologies to engage a younger audience. It’s also a literacy issue in Guinea, where the UN estimates only 39% of the adult population is literate.

For the full story, take a look at the New York Times article.