mercredi 28 décembre 2011
ENDANGERED SPECIES this time LANGUAGES
ENDANGERED SPECIES THIS TIME LANGUAGES
When we think of Endangered Languages, we usually think of isolated tribes in inaccessible regions of the earth. Not really so. In France, there are 25 languages in peril of disappearing, they are not dialects and in many cases quite a distinct linguistic origin, such as Breton. France in the name of Equality made it easier for many languages disappear. I meet people who grew up with one of these languages whose children do not have the vague idea of their ancestral language.
When I began working with the Indigenous people, I was told, it takes only a very short period of time to destroy a language. Just a few years after the arrival of the Missionaries Coahuiltecan disappeared and I was told that Taino language disappeared within one generation in Cuba after the arrival of the Spaniards.
Currently there is a vogue to speak a few words and say greetings in some extinct language but that does not constitute language renewal. For a language to revive there has to be a community of speakers for whom that language is the predominant language of communication. Wampanoag have been recognized for this sort of efforts.
Yes, the majority of languages in peril of extinction are indigenous languages, so countries with lots of indigenous people, USA, Mexico, Brasil, India, Russia, China, Indonesia, Papua-New Guinea, Canada and Australia are in the lead.
There are languages spoken by just the last survivor.
To me, on a personal note, visiting Puerto Williams along the Beagle Coast and learning about Cristina Calderon, the last of the Yamana speakers, was painful. Reading about Yamana, put down on paper by the very same people who were responsible for its disappearance, one gets a feeling that loosing Yamana, we will have lost a beautiful way of speaking, in metaphors. There are fifty other languages spoken only by one person, including Tinigua in Colombia.
There are 199 languages spoken by about 10 people each. Ayapaneco in Mexico has just two speakers. On the other end of the spectrum, 10 languages have more than 100 million adherents. While English is gaining in popularity, the actual number of native speakers is declining, because of change in demography. Did you know that there are more native speakers of Spanish (329 million) than English (328 million)? Mandarin takes the cake and also it is spreading widely, especially in Africa, as a second language. Arabic is spoken by about 221 millions, just surpassing French at 220 millions (even though I doubt whether there are 220 million native speakers of French). Hindi at 182 million, Bengali at 181 million, Portuguese at 178 million, Russian at 144 million and Japanese at 122 million round up the top ten.
If you have a heritage of a language in peril, you should take responsibility to play your part in the renaissance of that language. 97 per cent of the population of earth speak the 4 per cent of the 6700 languages extant. Majority of the languages in peril are absent in the Internet.
The usual threat is from the strong external language, such as English to a lesser degree Spanish or Portuguese in the western hemisphere and Australia.
Once again on a personal note, I feel pride in the efforts of my friends in the UmonHon tribe trying to revitalize their ancient language. And it gives no end of pleasure to hear the children of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas living on the Mexican Border speak to each other in their maternal tongue.
There have always been a resistance to integrate into the general society, we just touch them but we live here, said an UmonHon. The greater the resistance, less damage to the individual culture as such.
As a Meskwakia elder said to me once, you cannot transmit your culture without the language. And I salute the state of Israel for Hebrew becoming an every day language of millions!