Archive for Language extinction

Battle for Taiwanese

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Catalogue of Sogdian Writings in Central Asia

Regular readers of Language Log will not be strangers to Sogdian, an extinct Middle Iranian language (see the list of "Selected readings" below).  The pace of research on Sogdian has picked up greatly in recent decades.  Now, with the publication of Catalogue of Sogdian Writings in Central Asia by International Institute for Central Asian Studies (IICAS) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, we are set for even more intensive studies on Sogdian in the coming years.

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Manx

I've always pronounced it as rhyming with "thanks", but Wiktionary makes it sound more like "monks" in German, Dutch, and UK English.

"Manx" is the English exonym for the language whose endonym "is Gaelg/Gailck, which shares the same etymology as the word 'Gaelic', as do the endonyms of its sister languages Irish (Gaeilge; Gaoluinn, Gaedhlag and Gaeilic) and Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig)." (source)

Manx (or Manx Gaelic) was declared extinct as a first language in 1974 with the death of Ned Maddrell, but then achieved the remarkable feat of revival.  Since the topic of language extinction / survival / revival came up recently (see "Selected readings" below), I was especially drawn to this newspaper report:

An Ancient Language, Once on the Brink, Is a British Isle’s Talk of the Town

After being nearly silenced, Manx is experiencing a revival on the Isle of Man, thanks in part to an elementary school and some impassioned parents.

By Megan Specia, NYT (Nov. 24, 2022)

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Can a dead language be revived?

Worth pondering:

The more languages we have, the better we can understand the world

The vanishing Aleut language and the future of Russia’s linguistic diversity

3:50 am, October 25, 2022
Source: Meduza

Interview by Anna Smirnova. English-language version by Sam Breazeale.

Is it possible for a recently dead language like Manchu, which was politically powerful for centuries and had millions of speakers, to be brought back to life?  I think definitely yes, if there's a will to revive it, especially if it has close living relative with tens of thousands of speakers, such as Sibe / Xibe, there's no reason why it cannot be done

In early October, an 86-year-old man named Gennady Yakovlev died in the village of Nikolskoye on Russia’s Bering Island. Subsequent news reports referred to him as the last native speaker of the Aleut language — and many proclaimed that the language had died along with him. Meduza spoke to Evgeny Golovko, the director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute for Linguistic Studies, about the history of the Aleut language, why languages disappear, and whether the Aleut language really died along with Yakovlev.

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No "no"

When I lived in Nepal (1965-67), I heard of the Kusunda, but never had a chance to go visit them.  Now they are in the news, because their language — an isolate that linguists believe is unrelated to any other language in the world — is on the verge of extinction, with only one remaining speaker, 48-year-old Kamala Khatri.

"The language that doesn't use 'no'", by Eileen McDougall, BBC (8/9/22)

Selections from the article:

The Kusunda are highly marginalised and impoverished within Nepali society. Today, most live in west Nepal's Dang district, a sleepy region of yellow mustard fields and misty, wooded hills. It is here the Language Commission of Nepal has been running Kusunda classes since 2019 in an effort to preserve the language.

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Hokkien at UCLA

Article in Taiwan News:

"UCLA students learn about Taiwanese Hokkien in MOE*-supported course:

Course examines Taiwan’s widely-spoken dialect ‘in different forms of cultural production’", By Stephanie Chiang (4/19/22)

*Ministry of Education

UCLA began offering its first Taiwanese Hokkien course in January 2020:

The description of the course entitled “Taiwanese Language and Culture” reads, “Taiyu, or Taiwanese (also known as Minnan, Hoklo, or Hokkien, depending on context or region), is the language that most Taiwanese people use in daily lives, including everyday interaction and communication, entertainment, social and cultural events, etc.” The four-unit course offered to upper-division students requires students to have taken at least a year of Chinese courses or a Chinese placement test showing equivalent knowledge.

I wish they didn't have the prerequisite mentioned in the last sentence and don't understand the reason for such a requirement.

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Death knell for Cantonese

Article in South China Morning Post (12/18/21):

My Hong Kong by Luisa Tam

Cantonese is far from dead. It lags Mandarin in the Chinese language league table for numbers, but its cult status will see it live on

    Cantonese is a one-of-a-kind linguistic art form that’s quirkier and more edgy than Mandarin, nimble and ever-changing

    Its long-term fate is in the hands of every Cantonese speaker and Cantonese-language enthusiast who is willing to continue to breathe new life into it

In this, her most recent article on the nature and fate of Cantonese, Luisa Tam, a favorite author of ours here at Language Log, is upbeat about the future of the language.  I love Cantonese as much as she / anyone does, but I am less sanguine about what lies ahead for it than Luisa is.  As I said several days ago during a faculty meeting at Penn, there's no one who is more passionate about about defending and promoting Cantonese than VHM.  Why, then, am I so pessimistic about what is in store for this lively language?

Before I answer that question, let's see why Luisa Tam is so positive about Cantonese in the coming years.  Here are some selections from her article:

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Preserving Taiwanese

Article by Rhoda Kwan, Hong Kong Free Press (31/10/21):

‘The loss of language is the loss of heritage:’ the push to revive Taiwanese in Taiwan

"You can't completely express Taiwanese culture with Mandarin – something is bound to be lost in translation," says one advocate for the local language.

When I go to Taipei, I seldom hear Taiwanese being spoken, especially by people under forty or fifty.  That is always saddening to me, especially considering the fact that about 70% of the total population of Taiwan today are Hoklos.

The rare usage of Taiwanese, particularly on the streets of its capital Taipei, is a legacy of decades of colonial rule. During 50 years under Japanese rule, and the Kuomintang’s subsequent martial law from 1949 to 1987, generations of Taiwanese were banned from speaking their mother tongue in public.

“A whole generation’s learning in this language was washed away, and with this language a culture and identity was also washed away,” said Lí Sì–goe̍h, a Taiwanese language advocate.

Before the arrival of the Kuomintang, Taiwanese – a language from China’s Fujian province also referred to as Taigí, Taiwanese Hokkien, Hoklo or Southern Min – was spoken by most Han immigrants who arrived on the island from the 17th century onwards. Other languages, including other Chinese languages such as Hakka and dozens of different Austronesian indigenous languages, were also spoken on the island, a reflection of the diversity of ethnic groups that have lived on the island for centuries.

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Speak not: dying languages

In Asian Review of Books (10/20/21), Peter Gordon reviews James Griffiths' Speak Not: Empire, Identity and the Politics of Language (Bloomsbury, October 2021).  Although the book touches upon many other languages, its main focus is on Welsh, Hawaiian, and Cantonese.

That Speak Not is more politics than linguistics is telegraphed by the title. For Griffiths, language is the single most important aspect of group identity, both as marker and glue: that what makes the Welsh Welsh or Hawaiians Hawaiian is primarily the language, rather than lineage, culture, belief systems or lifestyles. While some might debate this, governments have all too often taken aim at minority languages with precisely this rationale in the name of national unity.

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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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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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