Archive for Language preservation

Dungan, a Sinitic language of Central Asia written in the Cyrillic Alphabet

The linguistic importance of Dungan is greatly disproportionate to the number of its speakers, approximately 150,000, who live in seven different countries that are widely spread across Eurasia:   Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine.  The main reason why Dungan has been the focus of so much interest during the half-century since I began studying this fascinating language is that it puts the lie to the fallacy that Sinitic languages can only be written with the Sinographic script (i.e., Chinese characters).  The only Sinitic language that needs to be written with morphosyllabic characters is Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese, a language that, in terms of its sayability, has been dead for millennia.  The recent academic study of Dungan has played a key role in enabling language specialists and the lay public finally to come to this realization.

Because the Dungan people are so highly scattered across vast distances and live among dominant populations with completely different languages that they need to speak for daily survival, their own language — and consequently also its alphabetic script — is threatened with extinction.  Furthermore, in recent decades the Dungans have been buffetted by ethnopolitical winds that make it even harder to maintain their unique identity.  That is why I have long felt a sense of urgency about the need to document and research Dungan language and script in all of their dimensions (morphology, phonology, lexicography, grammar, syntax, script, literature, sociolinguistics…).

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Taiwan's vanishing indigenous languages

The question of language survival in Taiwan is far more complex than whether Taiwanese (and Hakka and Cantonese) will die at the hands of Mandarin.  Helen Davidson probes the real situation in:

"Healing words: Taiwan’s tribes fight to save their disappearing languages
The island’s Indigenous people are in a race against time to save their native tongues before they are lost forever"

Guardian (6/8/21)

The author introduces us to Panu Kapamumu, speaker and guardian of his native language, Thao / Ngan.  Right away, we come up against a thorny thicket of linguistic verities:  "Normally, Kapamumu speaks in a mix of the two languages he knows better than his own – Chinese and English."

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Rescuing Icelandic

Essay in Wall Street Journal: 

"Computers Speaking Icelandic Could Save the Language From ‘Stafrænn Dauði’ (That’s Icelandic for ‘Digital Death’):  To counter the dominance of English in technology and media, Iceland is teaching apps and devices to speak its native language."  By Egill Bjarnason (May 20, 2021).

This is such a fascinating article, and one that points to a gigantic problem of language survival for many of the world's roughly 7,000 remaining tongues, that I could easily quote the entire piece.  I will resist that temptation, but will still offer generous chunks of it.  One part of the story that I cannot forgo is the saga of Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) and his epic linguistic and literary legacy.

Telma Brigisdottir, a middle-school teacher in suburban Iceland, arrived at her classroom on a recent morning in March eager to introduce a new assignment. Dressed in a pink hoodie, she told her students: Turn on your iPad, log into the website Samromur, and read aloud the text that appears on screen. Do this sentence after sentence after sentence, she instructed, and something remarkable will happen. The computer will learn to reply in Icelandic. Eventually.

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Writing Taiwanese with Romanization

Persuasive 14:09 YouTube video of Aiong Taigi explaining why he doesn't use Chinese characters (Hàn-jī 漢字) on his channel, but instead sticks to Romanization (Lomaji) as much as possible:  A'ióng, lí sī án-chóaⁿ bô teh ēng Hàn-jī? 【阿勇,汝是安盞無塊用漢字?】:

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Preventive Care for Local Languages

February 21st is International Mother Language Day, proclaimed by the General Conference of UNESCO in 1999 and celebrated every year since, aimed at promoting linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. In honor of the day, the following is a guest post by Alissa Stern, the founder of BASAbali, an initiative of “linguists, anthropologists, students, and laypeople, from within and outside of Bali, who are collaborating to keep Balinese strong and sustainable.” BASAbali won a 2019 UNESCO Award for Literacy and a 2018 International Linguapax Award.


We’re told “Don’t wait” to treat our bodies, secure our homes, or maintain our cars. We should do the same for local languages.

Despite all the years of language revitalization, we are still losing about one language every two to three weeks.  In this century alone, the number of languages on the planet will be halved. A little preventive care would help.

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Let's learn some Mongolian language and history

This seems quite informative and accurate about Mongolian history and language:

"What Genghis Khan's Mongolian Sounded Like – and how we know"

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Can a person have more than one native language?, part 2

Based on these two tweets, this 85-year-old Swedish woman has at least two native tongues:

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Can a person have more than one native language?

The following paragraph began as a comment to this post:  "How to maintain first and second language skills" (4/25/19)

How can a person acquire not just one, but two or more native languages? Now in China, some parents aspire to help their children learn both Chinese and English as their native languages. But, considering the drastic differences between the two languages, it seems to be quite a difficult goal to achieve, to use both languages equally well. A very interesting case I met is a 6th grader from an international school, a Chinese boy who spoke fluent English but stammering Chinese. He had to stop to organize his Chinese when trying to express complicated ideas. His parents are both native Chinese, and they sent him to an international primary school. There are undoubtedly many other students like him, since China has so many international primary and secondary schools. Their parents must have taken great effort making English the first language of their children. But why? And in the almost monolingual Chinese environment, I wonder if English as their first language could be as equally efficient as that of a real native speaker.

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Language revival in the news

BBC Future has a very nice article by Alex Rawlings about the work of Ghil'ad Zuckermann on language revival in Australia and the larger context of such efforts. One new thing I learned about Zuckermann from this article was that before he moved from Israel to Australia, he was a specialist on language revival in Israel. (That's what we generally think of as the revival of Hebrew, but he insists that the modern language is different enough from Biblical Hebrew, because of the influence of all the first languages of those who participated in its revival, to need a different name – he calls it Israeli.) Anyway, it's a nice article. Thanks to Victor Mair for sharing it around the Language Log water cooler.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190320-the-man-bringing-dead-languages-back-to-life

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Speak Hakka, our Mother Tongue

From the Hakka Affairs Council in Taiwan:


(Source)

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Throw a language party!

Magdalen Kelantumama telling the story Murtankala, The Woman Creator, Tiwi language, Australia, Darwin Fringe Festival, July 2017.

2019 is UN International Year of Indigenous Languages. How do we celebrate linguistic diversity and recognise the people who are keeping endangered languages strong? Inspired by the work of Joanna Macy, we have developed a format for storytelling in the original languages. While listeners don't understand the individual words, they get the message:

Speech does not consist of words alone… it consists of utterance – an uttering-forth of one's whole meaning with one's whole being – the understanding of which involves infinitely more than mere word-recognition. With an emotionally-laden utterance the meaning may be fully grasped even when every word is missed. –Oliver Sacks

And the message isn't just a story to be translated and digested, as though language were merely a tool for communication, and linguistic diversity no more than a barrier to be overcome through translation. Audiences experience Language as art, music, spoken soul. The thread of each story linking us back to the ancestors. Language connecting people to country. Each language a treasure for the whole of humankind. A language's emblematic stock of untranslatable words.

Today, speakers of endangered languages are found in urban centres across the world. This presents an opportunity to gather and listen to them, embrace the diversity in our midst, and create new ways and new places for people to belong. A special reward awaits: we all come to belong in our place in a new way.

The good news is that the world is still home to 4,500 vigorous languages. Celebrate with us, and throw a language party!

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The ethnopolitics of National Language in China

Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), the official language of the People's Republic of China, is designated in four different ways, depending upon the country in which these terms are used:

Guóyǔ 国语 / 國語 ("National Language") — Taiwan / ROC

Huáyǔ 华语 / 華語 ("Florescent / 'Chinese' Language") — Singapore

Hànyǔ 汉语 / 漢語 ("Sinitic Language") — linguists

Pǔtōnghuà 普通话 / 普通話 ("Common Language") — China / PRC

Although these four designations convey distinct, yet subtle, nuances, linguistically they basically refer to the same language with only minor variations.

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The future of Cantonese, part 2

During the month of May, we witnessed a major flare-up in Hong Kong over the status of Cantonese:

"Cantonese is not the mother tongue of Hong Kongers" (5/4/18) — with references to more than two dozen earlier posts on Cantonese relevant to today's topic; in toto, the number of LLog posts touching on one or another aspect of Cantonese is far greater than those listed at the end of this 5/4/18 post

"Cantonese is not the mother tongue of Hong Kongers, part 2" (5/7/18)

"The Future of Cantonese" (5/27/18)

All of this has prompted Verna Yu to ask "Can Cantonese survive?", America (6/5/18).

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