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Thread: Lost Languages

  1. #1
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Lost Languages

    Very interesting article...

    In defence of 'lost' languages
    By Duncan Walker
    BBC News

    Of the 6,000-odd languages in the world, one is said to disappear every fortnight. Should the English-speaking world care?

    Somewhere on the remote Timor Sea coast of north Australia lives Patrick Nudjulu, one of three remaining speakers of Mati Ke.

    It is problem enough that one of the other speakers doesn't live nearby and speaks a slightly different dialect. But the 60-year-old Aborigine also has to cope with the fact the other speaker is his sister - who traditional culture has forbidden him from speaking to since puberty.

    Patrick's language then, is almost certainly going to die out. It's not the only one.

    The problem is repeated to various degrees in practically every country, with dialects vanishing under the weight of major languages like English, says the writer Mark Abley.

    'Pathetic'

    It was 10 years ago that Mr Abley's interest in these disappearing dialects was sparked by an elderly woman in Quebec, Canada, trying to teach Abenaki to other members of her native American community.

    WORDS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
    Coghal - big lump of dead flesh after a wound is opened (Manx)
    Tkhetsikhe'tenhawihtennihs - I am bringing sugar to somebody (Mohawk - Canada and USA)
    Puijilittatuq - he does not know which way to turn because of the many seals he has seen come to the ice surface (Inuktitut - Canadian Arctic)
    Tl'imshya'isita'itlma - He invites people to a feast (Nootka - Canada)

    "I thought it was poignant and pathetic," says Mr Abley. "But I later realised it was also very interesting that she had the passion to do everything she could to revive her language."

    Movies, computer games, music and TV shows do not get made in minority languages and so the dialects start to become the preserve of the old, says the author of Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages.

    "One of the main things that's happening is that young people all over the world are being exposed to 21st Century culture, which is very often arriving in the form of English," he says.

    Parrot talk

    That languages occasionally disappear is nothing new.

    Some 200 years ago the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt stumbled upon the village of Maypures, near the Orinoco river, in what's now Venezuela.

    MORE WORDS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
    Onsra - to love for the last time (Boro - NE India and Bangladesh)
    Sjonvarp - television (Faroese - a language in good health)
    Nartutaka - small plum-like fruit for which there is no English word (Wangkajunga, central Australia)
    Th'alatel - a device for the heart (Halkomelem, Canada)

    While there he heard a parrot speaking and asked the villagers what it was saying. None knew since the parrot spoke Atures and was its last native speaker.

    But such changes - whether they are caused by war, famine, marriage or mass media - should not mean the loss of dialects is acceptable, says Mr Abley.

    English and other major languages, while often acting as a democratising force, do not always reflect the breadth of meaning in the language they supersede.

    The Inuit language of Inuktitut, for example, has many verbs for the word "know", ranging from "utsimavaa" - meaning he or she knows from experience to "nalunaiqpaa" - he or she is no longer unaware of something.

    "The point is that it's not just picturesque details that are lost if a language dies out, it's also a whole way of understanding human experience."

    Welsh porn

    Most attempts to revive threatened languages flounder, but they can succeed - particularly if they become a part of popular culture.

    Think Lisa Simpson and her recent flag-waving on behalf of Cornish and the teaching of Manx in Isle of Man schools.

    But it is Welsh that stands out as a "great example", with popular TV soap operas made in the language and bands like Super Furry Animals and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci recording in it.

    There's even been a pornographic novel written entirely in Welsh.

    "That's all for the good because it means the language is flourishing," says Mr Abley.


    (http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4172085.stm)
    ~
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
    ~


  2. #2

    Speaking of Languages

    The Chinese language has the longest continuous spoken and written history of any language in the world. Of the six billion people on the planet today, one billion speak Chinese, so one out of every six people in the world speak Chinese.

    Greek has the second longest spoken and written history in the world, which make it the longest in the West.

    One cannot count Hebrew, since it was only used liturgically for centuries until it once again became a living daily language in the 1940's with the founding of the state of Israel.


    One geneticist has traced genetic markers back to the Bushmen tribe in Africa, who speak the only language in the world to employ clicking sounds. It seems to be a scientific fact that they are the oldest gene pool in the world, and that all of humanity can trace its ancesters back to one bushman some 50,000 years ago. How interesting that the oldest gene pool, the progenitors of humanity, should preserve such a unique language.


    Otto Jesperson is considered among the greatest linguists who ever lived. He wrote a one volume "Philosophy of Grammer" (available in paperback).

    Jesperson spoke over 800 languages, but his favorite language was English (even though his native language was, I believe, Danish). He had some odd notions about why English was superior to all other languages. He considered English to be the most "masculine" language, and he considered masculine languages to be superior to "feminine" languages.

    Jesperson would travel to some remote jungle or mountain tribe, where there were only several hundred speakers of some obscure language, just to study it. Apparently there is some very poor tribe whose language has dozens of words to denote different shades and stages and qualities of hunger.

  3. #3
    Expert Waffler Snukes's Avatar
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    Linguistics has always been an excellent way to gain insight into the values of a culture. For example, per that article, Inuits have many words for the different shadings of knowledge, implying that knowledge is important to them. They also have a couple dozen (I forget exactly how many) words for different types of snow. That far north, you NEED that many different words, or you'd have the same weather forcast every day.

    The two words with the most synonyms in (American) English?

    Penis and Money.

    Go figure.
    100,000 lemmings can't be wrong. ~heard from a friend
    Life is the first gift, love is the second, understanding the third. ~ Marge Piercy
    Earth's crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God;
    but only he who sees takes of his shoes. ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

  4. #4
    Serious business Taliesin's Avatar
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    Ah, finally someone speaks about it.

    I myself speak estonian, which belongs to the finno-ugric language group which belongs to a greater group of Uralic languages (btw. none of them have any connections with russian or any other indoeuropean language)
    There are about about thirty languages (not counting the smaller dialects) in that group. Three of them are not endangered (including estonian, luckily) , gravely endangered, nearly extinct or extinct. That's because those three have a national state.
    The reason why most of the languages are dying, has got one main reason for most of the tongues - and the reason is geographic and it's called Russia. Most of the tongues are situated in Russia. And Russia doesn't support little tongues. In fact, Russia does everything in it's power to kill them all and make it so that in the territory of Russia only russian would be spoken.
    And with the tongues goes the culture of them. Phuck. It feels like your relatives were killed.
    For example: suppose you lived in England, and then a person who doesn't speak english, has decreased the importance of english in state institution's, shut down the national theatre, make sthe teaching of english in schools facultative,has decreased the number of the English newspapers and magazines and the time in televison and radio of English speaking broadcast and who has commited a genocide against english people? And suppose there were an about equal number of say english and chinese (picked a random tongue) in the country due to chinification. And then the English-supportive candidate would get about 19% per cent of the votes?
    An analogical situation has happened in Mari El. Leonid Markelov had done the analogical things against the Maris (who are btw most politically active uralic tongue). And he got "elected". 57% of the votes. (btw Markelov got the orden of Nation's Friendship from Putin, who then probably approved this russification. The intelligence of Mari considered this a bitter insult)
    Do you really believe that this was an democratic election?

    And the probable thing to happen is that the Maris that they start teaching their children russian so that they could get education (the per cent of Marish education is practically zero) and that they could get work somewhere. Sad but probable.

  5. #5
    fated loafer
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    Interesting topic, for my linguistics class I am writing a paper on the Dutch language. We have to choose a language that cannot be english or is our first langauge and write about it's classification, historical background, where it's used and then go into the phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and lexicon of the language. It was upsetting to find that many of the more intersting and less widely spoken languages I could not study without going to the environment the language is spoken in because there is no linguistic documentation or none transalted or written in english about it. I considered estonian, frisian (I didn't even know frisian existed). But I ended up with Dutch becuase it seemed more intersting than German or Russian or Japanese or French, which most people in the class are doing. So far, and thank you Snukes for pointing me in the right directions on my research, there seems to be alot of controversy over the various dialects.
    Of course now that I think of the fact that there is little documentation of many languages just means there could be a career for me in the field of linguistics. Prehaps I should switch majors.

  6. #6
    Peace is this way Jester's Avatar
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    the loss of languages is particularly frightening to me... it simply means that the world is dying, over and over again every fortnight. Also without learning a language translations never work. You lose so much in a single translation that you never truly understand the written word becuase as we have several tenses there is a group who have two the future and now and likewise there is a native american tribe who do not have sense of linear time and hence no language to denote it, imagine trying to tranlate a piece of literature into one in which time exists from one in wich time does not.
    "It all comes down to what we make of ourselves, eh?"
    -The Fairy Godmother

    "Sing on, poor souls! The night is short, and the morning will part you forever!"
    - Uncle Tom's Cabin

  7. #7
    Expert Waffler Snukes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Taliesin
    There are about about thirty languages (not counting the smaller dialects) in that group. Three of them are not endangered (including estonian, luckily) , gravely endangered, nearly extinct or extinct. That's because those three have a national state.
    It is a sad but historically documented fact that language (right up there with religion) is one of the main tools used in state formation. Especially hostile state formation. Subverting the language and religion of a culture is one of the quickest ways to reduce them to dependency.

    The Romans did it. Worked well for them. But so have practically all the historical superpowers, whether they were "superpowers" in terms of overall politics or even just academics (which, in the classical worlds, always went hand in hand).

    The hopeful bit to find (or that I find, rather) in this situation is that all these superpowers eventually fell apart, and their languages with them. Look what happened to Rome and Latin. Out of these crumbling super-languages were born dozens of new languages. French (though they don't like to admit it) is what happened when germanic soldiers in the Roman army stationed in Gaul were too lazy to conjugate all their verbs properly. Two thousand years later, the French have put a freeze on the evolution of their language ("academic" french having more rules than even English, which is ridiculous. Anyone who knows french can take one look at the past simple form and see what I mean...)

    The point is that language always evolves. Please don't think I mean it isn't sad that languages die, because I agree completely with Taliesen and Jester about the need to know a language to truly understand the culture, but you can't put a stop on language evolving any more than you can on the cultures evolving. Would the people who speak these dying languages be better served if we cut them off from outside influences and let them return to the way of life they held back when their language was pure and abundant?

    (I don't mean to provoke, only to discuss. Questions and comments stated above are not in all cases my personal opinions.)
    100,000 lemmings can't be wrong. ~heard from a friend
    Life is the first gift, love is the second, understanding the third. ~ Marge Piercy
    Earth's crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God;
    but only he who sees takes of his shoes. ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

  8. #8
    Serious business Taliesin's Avatar
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    We know that languages evolve. They loan words and other things from other tongues. Estonian has also a huge number of words that come from german due to its history.
    But We do not see what that thing has to do with the dying languages. Do you mean that some languages evolve to death? Which, We are afraid, doesn't make any sense to us.

  9. #9
    Good morning, Campers! Jay's Avatar
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    Well, maybe they evolve so much into another language that nothing of the original's left? Therefore it 'dies'?
    I have a plan: attack!

  10. #10
    There used to be a considerable difference in English between "will" and "shall." For example, if I am scheduled each day to work at my job until 6 p.m. then I would say "I SHALL be at work until 6 p.m." I would not say that I WILL be at work until 6 p.m. because the word "will" denotes a strong act of volition to do something out of the ordinary. Were you to say to me, "Oh but I must come after 6 p.m. to deliver some documents." Then I would say, "O.K. then, I will remain at work until 7 p.m. in order to accomodate you."

    But, over the years, the distinction between "will" and "shall" fades.

    The same may be said of "well" and "good." Strictly speaking "well" is adverbial and "good" is adjectival. If someone asks me how I am, then if I say good, I am making a moral statement about myself, that I am a good person, but if I say "well" then I answer with regard to my health or finances, I am doing "well" possibly because I "AM" good. Though Job, in the Old Testament, was definitely GOOD (in fact one of the best) but did not fare well, but suffered much misfortune and illness.

  11. #11
    Peace is this way Jester's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=Snukes]Would the people who speak these dying languages be better served if we cut them off from outside influences and let them return to the way of life they held back when their language was pure and abundant?QUOTE]

    Personally I beleive this would be better... you know why American natives (i mean sboth south and north) were so easily conquered when it came to battle is becuase of all the disease the europeans brought with them... but thats another discussion...

    I completly agree with you that langueages evolve and thats just a fact of life... but its sad when it hasn't evolved but jsut died like when an old lady of ninetyfive who's the only sourse of one langueage dies, so does that whole culture...

    I sometimes play this game called civ 2 and when ever i get killed it goes into this thing that in five thousand years great exploreres will come across your nation and they find... (program always cut off then) but just what will they find down the road, that their language is ours, I've read things about poeple putting bibles and literature and what not into a new building but really in a couple of thousand years they wont know any more about us then we had a writing style if the language died and did not evolve... we know sanskrit manuscripts because the language evolved, it didn't die.
    "It all comes down to what we make of ourselves, eh?"
    -The Fairy Godmother

    "Sing on, poor souls! The night is short, and the morning will part you forever!"
    - Uncle Tom's Cabin

  12. #12
    fated loafer
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    The extinction is part of the changing of language, but as culture becomes more unfied through technology how can it be prudent to loose so many languages without even documentation for the future of thier existence.

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