Like endangered animals, many world languages face extinction. While many people give generously to save cute and cuddly creatures like koalas or kangaroos, finding support for something as immaterial as language can be more challenging. But language does matter. It carries cultural identity and captures unique ways of thinking. Language also serves as a link to family both present and past for those who speak it. This month’s links will highlight languages at risk of dying, others at risk but surviving, and others like the Biblical Lazarus revived from the dead.
How Border Communities Help Languages At-Risk
Of the approximately 7,000 languages in the world, nearly 3,000 of them are in danger of dying out. While not a concern for some, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) consider it a serious matter. They promote language diversity and inclusion in a variety of ways. But one of the battles that has proved difficult to win is how to preserve endangered languages. Recently new information has emerged that bolsters the hope of language preservation. Ironically, it is something often used to divide nations — BORDERS.
Research gives promising indications that people using at risk languages in cross border communities are keeping those languages alive through daily use in trade and communication. This regular use promotes the flourishing of not only regional traditions, but also cultural awareness and understanding. However, regular use in trade is not the only remedy. Education in the mother tongue also serves as a vital way to preserve at-risk languages. Those who speak endangered languages face considerable barriers in finding educational materials in their language. However, when those resources become available, they help to preserve the language, culture, and traditions of those who speak it.
What Lazarus Effect Means For World Languages
Professor Gil’ad Zuckerman is a freedom fighter for languages. He loves them, he defends them, and as much as he can, he restores them. He takes linguicide seriously, which is the intentional destruction of a language, and may include forcibly removing children from a language group to learn a different language, an officially UN-recognized form of genocide. A native Israeli and expert in Hebrew language revival analysis, Zuckerman fell in love with Australia when he travelled there. He decided that he wanted to do something to help its aboriginal people and their languages. He subsequently founded a field of study called Revivalistics, “which focuses on supporting the survival, revival and reinvigoration of endangered and extinct languages all around the world.” His efforts in Australia are helping bring dead and dying languages back to life.
Zuckerman recognizes that no revitalized dead language will be the same as the original. With this awareness, he promotes flexibility and modernization for revived langauges. He wants the new language to be useful to 21st-century speakers. An arduous task at best and one beset by crippling government bureaucratic missteps at worst, Zuckerman has nonetheless managed to help give a voice to dead aboriginal languages like Barngarla. The revival of dead languages in turn helps reduce suicide in aboriginal communities and preserves the beauty of language diversity. This linguistic preservation helps to right the wrongs of the colonial past that suppressed its use.
How Enforced Monolingualism May Result In Linguicide
Turkey, a country that lies in Europe and Asia, is careening toward monolingualism. Although once a place of vibrant linguistic diversity, with the creation of the Turkish state in the early 20th century, languages other than Turkish began to suffer. Armenian Christians were in particular affected during the Armenian genocide. During that time, upwards of 1.5 million Armenian Christians were executed or forcibly displaced by the Muslim majority government. In addition, the Kurds, Laz, and Assyrians, among others, have faced government policies aimed at eradicating all non-Turkish identity.
What helps preserve languages most says Gökhan Alptekin, the vice president of the Istanbul-based Laz Cultural Association, “…is family and state policies. If parents speak their native language with their kids, the language will very likely survive throughout generations.” Unfortunately, the Turkish government doesn’t seem to support either. If Turkey does not change directions in the near future, linguicide may be added to genocide in the story of its history.
What Language Plasticity Tells Us About Future
Although many agree that there is a cultural loss when a language is lost, the author of this article argues that all is not lost. According to Maia Ponsonnet, a senior lecturer at the University of Western Australia, language and culture are more fluid and moldable concepts that they may at first appear. She has conducted extensive research into Aboriginal languages in Australia. This research has led her to believe that even when languages die out, the culture does not. Instead, cultural ways of speaking and understanding morph into the new language.
One such example can be found in the old indigenous Dalabon language. Cultural concepts from Dalabon reflect in the post-colonial Criol language. In Dalabon to “feel sorry” and “give” are the same word – “marrbun.” Now, in the new Kriol, to “feel sorry” and “give” are the same word – “sori.” So here, the cultural concept remains, even though the word has changed. Evidently cultures, like people, are highly adaptable. Language, then, can be a vehicle that continues to carry the culture into the future.
Support for World Languages Through Interpreting and Translation
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