When will the Welsh language die?
International Year of Indigenous Languages - Save the diversity of languages!
At least 3,000 of the 7,000 languages currently in existence are threatened with extinction. Another language dies every 14 days. These are generally indigenous languages that are only spoken by very small population groups. These languages and their associated cultures are in most cases not documented - with each additional language lost, the world always loses a piece of history and culture.
A piece of cultural diversity dies with every language
Take "Cotisuelto", a word from Caribbean Spanish that denotes a man who refuses to tuck his shirt into his pants. A fascinatingly specific term. Or "Iktsuarpok", the Inuit word for a certain feeling of impatience, which prompts one to look outside to see whether the expected visit is already in sight. There are no direct equivalents for this in any other language. And even if these are perhaps not words that would be of great importance for many people in everyday language use, they say a lot about the culture behind them. Indeed, indigenous languages are often characterized by the fact that they do not even know certain terms that are commonplace in the languages that are widely used today. These include words like "war", "theft", or "God". Especially in the case of the lack of the word "God" it is exciting to see how many terms there are instead often for spirits and ancestors.
With languages we lose a lot more than just words, because not everything can be expressed in every language. This problem becomes understandable not only when looking at individual terms, but also when you consider that different cultures share stories with each other in different ways. Leslie Marmon Silko, part of the Laguna Pueblo Nation, wrote a specifically indigenous novel: Almanac of the Dead. Although written in English, her work does not follow the traditional "Western" form, but is based on the indigenous tradition of oral storytelling. So Silko's novel resembles a (for many readers quite confusing and exhausting) collection of dreams, maps, memories and prophecies - a structure that many languages that no longer exist have followed.
Above all, it is important to prevent further losses
- to document dying languages
- To encourage parents to pass on their languages to their children
- to offer the minorities, who are particularly often threatened by natural disasters, more protection
- to officially recognize indigenous languages
So, for example, have been English since 1993 and Welsh the official languages of Wales. Due to this status of Welsh, among other things, all official documents must be available in both languages. The Welsh government has set itself the goal of reaching 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050.
Better late than never
The past has already shown that it is entirely possible to prevent a language from becoming extinct. Indeed, the number of people speaking Welsh is increasing. In the case of languages that really only have a handful of speakers, the loss can hardly be stopped - at least not without a very timely documentation. But if it is still possible for parents and grandparents to pass languages on to children, then many languages can be saved from extinction in a comparatively simple manner. If you only communicate with them enough, they will literally learn a new language with ease, without having to get stuck behind their desk with school books years later.
What can we do to help?
Even if no dying languages are spoken in your family, you can still counteract the dying out of a language: For example, the language learning app offers Duolingo now also courses in Diné (the Navajo language) and Hawaiian. After the Navajo children were sent to English-language boarding schools in the 19th century, and after Hawaiian was banned from Hawaiian schools, it is arguably easier than ever to relearn these two languages.
The prohibition of many languages and the resulting stigma repeatedly lead to a kind of intergenerational trauma: Parents consider it better not to teach their children their language, as they fear further oppression. There are now several generations of so-called "silent speakers": They understand the indigenous languages of their family because they have heard them over and over again throughout their life (even if only in the safety of their own four walls) - but they have never spoken these languages themselves . It is all the more important that indigenous languages are openly recognized and promoted.
Depending on your home country, you can also personally support indigenous groups. In the USA, Canada and Australia, for example, this is possible through political engagement. But donations (in this case from all over the world, of course) can help. In this way, language lessons in particular can easily be made possible with financial aid. The Language Conservancy lists some help options on their website, but smaller projects can also be found quickly on the Internet. Here, for example, you can have kids learn Miriwoong - an Australian language with only 20 speakers remaining - for just $ 20.
Another type of support is the purchase of works by indigenous authors. For this purpose, the Canadian Huffington Post compiled a list: These Books By Canadian Indigenous Women Will Broaden Your Perspectives. Those who like to pass books on to others after reading them can also donate them to schools or similar institutions in order to further spread the newly gained perspectives.
Obviously, 2019 was declared the International Year of Indigenous Languages for good reason. Part of the UNESCO plan is not only the promotion of language preservation, but also the increased involvement of indigenous peoples in official decisions - a topic that has so far been extremely neglected.
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