Archive for Language extinction

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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Taiwanese slipping

The following article is in Chinese and is smothered in colorful ads, but you can see with your own eyes from the headline the dismaying figure of 22.3% young people who can speak their mother tongue:

Zhuānjiā bào Táiyǔ xiāoshī wéijī `nánbù yě hěn qīcǎn' quán Tái jǐn 22.3% niánqīng rén huì jiǎng

專家爆台語消失危機「南部也很淒慘」 全台僅22.3%年輕人會講

"Experts reveal the crisis of Taiwanese disappearing; even the South is in a miserable condition:  in the whole of Taiwan, only 22.3% of young people can speak it."

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Tightening the noose on Mongolian in Southern Mongolia

From the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC):

"Massive civil disobedience breaks out, tension rises" (8/29/20)

After the Chinese Central Government’s secret plan to replace Mongolian with Chinese as language of instruction in all schools across Southern Mongolia starting this September in the name of the “Second Type of Bilingual Education” was revealed in documents leaked from local educational authorities, a region-wide civil disobedience resistance movement has broken out in Southern Mongolia.

From kindergarteners to top intellectuals, from middle schoolers to college students, from ordinary herders to rural villagers, and from businessmen even to some government officials, people from all walks of life of Southern Mongolia are standing up in an unprecedented level of solidarity and coordination against the new policy, which many see as a new round of “cultural genocide.”

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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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Ubykh: requiem and revival

I begin with an e-mail from Martin Schwartz, sent to me on 3/14/16:

Last September in Istanbul a fair-haired academic there, a colleague of my wife, said she is of Çerkes background, and went on to say a relative of hers was the last Ubykh speaker.  Dumêzil had been to her family's home, grouchy that there were apparently no Ubykh speakers to be found, when the Ubykh speaker knocked on the door….

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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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The Last Lesson — in Mongolian

The Chinese government has prohibited  Mongolian language instruction in all schools in the Mongolian areas of Xinjiang:  "Southern Mongolia: Instruction in Mongolian Language Banned in All Schools", Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization (1/3/18).

The last school in the so-called Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to provide education in the Mongolian language, the Bayangol No. 3 High School, has banned its usage as language of instruction. According to the region’s Education Department, the ethnic language can be offered as an elective course, but all main courses must be taught in Chinese. This clearly demonstrates that bilingual education is no longer existent which sparked further outrage when articles and internet posts discussing this situation were removed by Chinese authorities. Southern Mongolians are deeply concerned and outraged by this as they feel their nation is being reduced to a Chinese colony.

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Sibe: a living Manchu language

While it is generally acknowledged that Manchu language is nearly extinct, with only a handful of elderly speakers in the original territory of Manchuria, a very close cousin survives in the far northwest of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of the PRC.  This language is called Sibe (MSM transcription Xíbó 锡伯), and it is spoken by about 30,000 individuals among a population of about 200,000 whose ancestors were sent by the Manchu emperor to garrison the region in 1763-1764.  They never returned to their original homeland in the northeast of the empire, but have stayed continuously in the Ili Valley area of Eastern Central Asia (ECA), especially Qapqal Xibe Autonomous County / Chapchal Sibe Autonomous County.  Although the origin of the name "Siberia" is contestedPamela Crossley suggests that the Russians who were moving toward the Pacific named that vast region after the Sibe, who were well known to them.

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Manchu film

Xinhua claims "Yīnggē lǐng chuánqí 莺歌岭传奇" ("Legend of Yingge Ridge") to be the first film in the Manchu language. I could only find this trailer for it on Tudou (Manchu speaking appears to start around 2 minutes in).

The Tudou link doesn't work well, has too many intrusive ads, and requires Flash.  Use this YouTube version which is much, much better.  But what sort of resurrected Manchu is this?  It sounds oddly like Korean to me, and at least one Korean friend says that — more so than Mongol — it makes him feel as though he should be able to understand it, but of course he cannot.

There are, however, some fundamental problems with this film.

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Dialect death

Reports of the death of languages and the extinction of languages are alarmingly routine, but before a language dies out entirely, when it is endangered, its dialects die off one by one.

"Last native speaker of Scots dialect dies" (10/6/12)

Dialect Death:  The case of Brule Spanish (1997)

The list of publications documenting the dead and dying dialects could go on for many pages:  I lament each and every one of them.

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A rebirth for Manchu?

Manchu was the language of the last Chinese dynasty, the Qing, which ruled from 1644-1912, and had two of its emperors (Kangxi, Qianlong) each rule for 60 years or more.

Today, out of nearly ten million ethnic Manchus, fewer than one hundred can still speak the language fluently, and it is generally regarded as being on the brink of extinction.

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