03 February 2008

More on endangered languages

Last month I posted about Guernsey’s efforts to save its indigenous language, Guernésiais and the race to save the Nepalese language Dura. Last month also saw the passing of the last Eyak speaker.

There is another language-related story I’m sure I would have blogged had I not missed it. It was only when the current issue of the Fortean Times arrived a few days ago, did I learn that an indigenous language in southern Mexico is in danger of disappearing because its last two speakers have stopped talking to one another.


According to a BBC report last November two elderly men in the village of Ayapan, Tabasco, have drifted apart. Nevertheless the Mexican Institute for Indigenous Languages is trying to encourage more local people to speak Ayapan Zoque, and hopes the two men will pass the language on to their families. "We hope in a few years to be talking about new speakers of the language," said Dr Nava, head of the Institute.


Mexico has a rich diversity of languages with over 350 indigenous languages spoken within its territory. More than 20 of these are under threat of extinction

16 comments:

beakerkin said...

Jams

Speaking of odd languages, I had an unusual sort from the UK yesterday.
He was from the Satmar Chasidic community in the UK and could not speak English. Are there national testing standards in the local schools. Most likely this individual went to a local Yeshiva, but there should have been some English instruction or testing.

Anonymous said...

New EU laws mean that everyone has the right to speak their own language. This has not always been the case. In France for example it was forbiden to speak Breton after the Second World War. Now there are small privately funded schools which teach in Breton,it is also taught at some Universities.

Is the new law going to give rise to a celebration of diversity or a fragmenting of society along ethnic and national lines??

jams o donnell said...

I would be very surprised if he spoke no English. I've never met a British jew who didn't. Perhaps he moved to teh UK as an adult. Otherwise I have no idea how he would have slipped though the net.

There are a lot of indigenous languages in the EU Clarice. Many of them are spoken by small numbers. I'm all for preserving them, I'm all for people speaking them as they wish. In this day and age the main national languages will still dominate national communication.

Pēteris Cedriņš said...

I'm all for trying to preserve indigenous languages also -- like Livonian, for instance, which has guarantees in our language legislation. It's a dying language, though, like thousands of languages, and being able to speak as one wishes (to spurn the language less spoken) is usually part of a death knell for minor languages. In hard reality, there is only a handful of speakers. They are no longer capable of sustaining the language, unless as an artifact.

The most recent study on Latvian was just released this weekend -- though it's not yet in book form, so I've only seen snippets.

Latvian is a national and now a state language, of course, and an official EU language (as Irish also is, finally).

But status can be only a label, and can be a lot of things. Most Latvians detest "bilingualism" because it was already experienced -- asymmetrical,it meant that Latvians learned Russian whilst Latvian was gradually pushed out of the public sphere. If you put two people together, they tend to speak in the language both know best. If everybody knows English, Russian, or __ best, they will speak __, and the result will be the assimilation of the lesser, sooner or later. The old adage here was that nine Latvians in a room speak Latvian, and a Russian comes in -- everybody switches to Russian because he or she doesn't understand. I've seen that happen hundreds of times.

What matters is policy, and from what I've read of the findings -- few are content. Latvians feel that the language is insufficiently protected, whilst Russians feel they are discriminated against.

Irish has been co-official since the founding of the Republic -- but there are far fewer fluent Irish speakers now than there were then.

beakerkin said...

Jams

He was born in the UK to Israeli parents. He did not understand English at all.

The private schools need to be supervised. How a person could be born in the UK and not be able to respond to an interview in English is a joke. I have no idea how this clod graduated high school.

He was a nebbish.

Anonymous said...

I think that English is destroying even the Major languages such as French. Minority languages don't stand a chance unless protected.

I find that story about the boy in a private school difficult to believe.

jams o donnell said...

What to say Peteris? In the case of Livonian I'm sure efforts can be made to support Livonian but it's very difficult to keep a language living. Itish may well have died out had it not received enormous support from teh Irish governmeent. Although everyone in the Republic (except a few very old citizens)has some knowledge of gaelic, the number of people using it as day to day language is in the tens of thousands. None of this means that efforts should not be made to support miniority languages.

THat is a very unusual case.Beakerkin. Trhere is a sizeable Hssidic community in North London which is quite insular. Still it would be strange to find people growing up here with no knowledge of English. He's not spinning you a line?

English is effectively the world's lignau franca clarice. As a native English speaker, living in the UK perhaps I just don't realise the effect English has on miniority langfuages. A case of high/low? (if you are young and have to learn a language, English is seen as a more atractive choice than the indigenous one?)

Anonymous said...

English or American English?:-)

jams o donnell said...

Or perhaps even Simplified English?

Anonymous said...

Pidgen even.

jams o donnell said...

Could be!

Anonymous said...

Got 2 sleep.

Allez, ciao, Bonne night. (euroglish)

jams o donnell said...

Je hope you dormed bon!

Anonymous said...

Pa mal, but not 4 long enough. Et toi?

jams o donnell said...

Comme un bebe, moi!

Anonymous said...

Ever since I finished school I didn’t think I would want to have anymore lessons ever again, however recently I have wanted to learn a language, maybe become fluent in one and basic in a couple of others. I did a bit of research and found there were loads of different packages available I went with one that claims you teach yourself Spanish and I was impressed it was a computer program that helped with pronunciation and speaks back to you so you can hear it too.