Endangered Species: Human Languages Are Becoming Extinct
March 1, 2004 9:00 AM   Subscribe

Imagine how different politics would be if debates were conducted in Tariana, an Amazonian language in which it is a grammatical error to report something without saying how you found it out. Say No More. Some call it Murder that is a threat to survival. On Saving Dying Languages. A sample project: Iquito Language Documentation Project (PDF) Here are some Endangered language Resources. Here is a booklist by Andrew Dalby on lost and threatened languages and here you can put your money where your mouth is: Endangered Language Fund.
posted by y2karl (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That is a fantastic post, y2karl. I'm impressed, and I'm still reading after half an hour. W2G.
posted by bonaldi at 9:06 AM on March 1, 2004

re tariana, also see e-prime :D

re dying languages, conlang could provide some consolation!
posted by kliuless at 9:37 AM on March 1, 2004

In Turkish there's a tense (I forget the precise formation, but it's something like adding -mis- to the verb stem) which means "It's reported that.." eg, "I don't necessarily know this to be a fact". A gossip tense, if you like.
posted by Pericles at 9:41 AM on March 1, 2004

Thanks for the e-prime link, kliuless. That 'was' ;) probably the most useful topic covered in my metaphysics seminar oh so long ago.

And thank you, y2karl, for a fine post for shirking away a rainy Monday.
posted by Fezboy! at 9:59 AM on March 1, 2004

maybe could've saved clinton too :D

hey just saw this on scitechdaily today!
posted by kliuless at 12:06 PM on March 1, 2004

Alexandra Aikhenvald, interviewed above, made two intriguing answers:

What's the most difficult language you've come across?

It took me 10 years to get the grammar of Tariana. Of course, Finnish is probably harder...

Do languages hold any surprises for you?

I had been working with Tariana for nine years before I came across the word for "purple". I was astounded. I did not realise there could be a word for purple in a language that does not distinguish between green and blue.

posted by y2karl at 12:32 PM on March 1, 2004

You don't have to go far to find endangered languages. Virtually all Native American languages are endangered. Once you lose a generation of children speaking the language you have to work twice as hard to get kids to learn it. The Hawaiians started full immersion schools on the sly because if they had waited for the schools to get accredited there wouldn't have been enough kids brought up speaking Hawaiian to be classmates of those that had not been brought up in the language.

In some cases, a language can be revived by as little as one man and one small community. Another site - with nice multimedia - tells about language revival among the North Dakota Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara. For a detailed examination of language death, look at the Ioway nation site.

My folks stopped speaking Yiddish in our house after my grandparents died. I had to relearn the language as an adult. These days we speak it quite a lot at family gatherings, if only so our kids can hear it and make it a part of their identity. If they don't want to speak Yiddish, fine, but if we don't speak it they won't have that choice. And the jokes are just too good to be translated.
posted by zaelic at 1:03 PM on March 1, 2004

Hooray for posting this, y2karl!

This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I work on the Avenue project in the Language Technologies Institute at CMU. I've been working on a way to automate some of the field methods used to record and preserve low-resource languages. The idea is that if languages can be elicited faster and more accurately we can save more of them. We'll be testing it out in Chile by next year, I hope.

Still, a lot of this stuff is new to me. Thanks for the resources, especially that reading list.
posted by Alison at 1:15 PM on March 1, 2004

Here are some additional links I found while checking out Tariana: two abstracts. a book description and some informed comment on the Aikenvald interview. And that's just the linguistics--Tarian is evidently a given name in three, ahem, languages and at least one imaginary empire.

Upon review: We have quite a few dying languages where I live, zaelic, with people trying to save them and that is a very interesting project, Alison.
posted by y2karl at 1:31 PM on March 1, 2004

Great post! (But then I would think that, wouldn't I...)

My reaction to the "Say No More" link is here.
posted by languagehat at 5:09 PM on March 1, 2004

Brilliant post, y2Karl. I was going to post that NYTimes article, but this is much better.
posted by Tlogmer at 6:25 PM on March 1, 2004

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