Archive for Endangered languages

The many varieties of Japanese regional speech

Anyone who learns Standard Japanese and then travels around outside of the Tokyo area will quickly come to realize how distinctive and numerous are the local forms of language once one leaves the metropolitan region of the capital.

Some interesting aspects of this phenomenon are presented in a new article in nippon.com, "Linguistic Treasures: The Value of Dialects", by Kobayashi Takashi, professor at the Center for the Study of Dialectology, Tōhoku University, who specializes in dialects and the history of Japanese.

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Scripts at risk

Andrea Valentino has an intriguing article in BBC Future (1/21/20):  "The alphabets at risk of extinction:   It isn’t just languages that are endangered: dozens of alphabets around the world are at risk. And they could have even more to tell us."

Usually, when we worry about languages going extinct, we are thinking about their spoken forms, but we are less often concerned about their written manifestations.  As Valentino puts it,

This might have something to do with the artificiality of alphabets. Language is innate to all humans, but scripts have to be invented and actively learned. This has happened rarely. Even by the middle of the 19th Century, only 10% of adults knew how to write, and there are only about 140 scripts in use today.

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Seke, an endangered language of Nepal, in Flatbush, Brooklyn

As a former Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal (1965-67), I have a particular interest in all things Nepalese, especially language.  Now comes report of a spectacular linguistic phenomenon related to Nepal, and it is situated less than a hundred miles from where I'm sitting in Philadelphia.

"Just 700 Speak This Language (50 in the Same Brooklyn Building):  Seke, one of the world’s rarest languages, is spoken by about 100 people in New York", by Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, NYT (1/7/20):

The apartment building, in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, is a hive of nationalities. A Pakistani woman entered the elevator on a recent afternoon with a big bag of groceries, flicking a dupatta over her shoulder as a Nepalese nurse and the janitor, a man from Jamaica there to mop up a spill, followed her in.

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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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Study the linguistics of Game of Thrones

At the instant of posting this, there are only 18 places remaining out of the 40 maximum in Linguistics 183 001, David Peterson's summer session course at UC Berkeley on "The Linguistics of Game of Thrones and the Art of Language Invention." 3 to 5 p.m., Mon/Tue/Wed/Thu, May 22 to June 30.

It's not a 'Structure of Dothraki' course; it's about how you go about inventing languages (Peterson has done this for film and TV several times, and has been paid money for it).

Hurry to sign up. And don't ever let me hear you saying that linguistics doesn't provide fun things to do.

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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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Treasure language

A talk at Charles Darwin University by Steven Bird:

With thousands of languages in danger of disappearing, should we redouble our efforts to "save" them? Or could we open ourselves to the stories, lives, and world views of the people who speak the smaller languages around us? Steven Bird, computer scientist and linguist, draws on unconventional sources of wisdom to suggest concrete actions for us to take, and inspires us to believe we can alter the future course of language evolution.

Steven has journeyed to some of the remotest places in Africa, Melanesia, Central Asia, and Amazonia to record speakers of the world’s treasure languages. He is visiting Darwin, a hot spot of linguistic diversity and language endangerment, to explore new ways to keep languages strong. Steven has held academic positions at the universities of Edinburgh, Pennsylvania, Melbourne, and Berkeley. He is currently a visiting professor at Charles Darwin University.

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Crowdsourcing Language Revitalization

We often hear of projects for revitalizing or documenting endangered languages obtaining grants, but the Tahltan Language Conservation Initiative folks have a new approach: crowdsourcing. Here is their appeal at Indiegogo, better known as a way of funding technology projects. The rewards that contributors can obtain are materials produced by the project.

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Treasure Language

Steven Bird writes:

After researching some alternatives, I'm trying to get "treasure language" adopted as a way of talking about disappearing or threatened or dying languages. I'm creating a new kind of storytelling event that brings immigrant/diaspora and indigenous communities together.

The first event is scheduled in less than two weeks in Oakland, and features storytelling and word games in Tigrigna, lu Mien, and other small languages spoken in Oakland.

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Fake account spotting on Facebook

One language-related story in the British press over the weekend was that Gavin McGowan was threatened by Facebook with having his account shut down… because they said his name was fake.

About ten years ago Gavin learned some Scottish Gaelic and started using the Gaelic spelling of his name: Gabhan Mac A Ghobhainn. Facebook is apparently running software designed to spot bogus accounts on the basis of the letter-strings used to name them. Gabhan's name evidently failed the test.

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Don't even know the rules of their own language

Bob Ladd points out that a commenter ("RobbieLePop") on a Guardian article about Prince Charles (the opinionated prince who is destined to inherit the throne under Britain's hereditary monarchical and theocratic system of government) said this:

The moment the Monarchy, with he at its head, begins a campaign of public influence is the moment the Monarchy should be disbanded.

With he at its head ? Let's face it, the traditionally accepted rules for case-marking pronouns in English are simply a mystery to many speakers.

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Steven Bird's language documentation work

You should watch this segment from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation about Steven Bird's project to record oral texts in endangered languages using smartphone apps: "Academics team up to save dying languages", 3/13/2014.

And on Steven's website, there are a couple of radio interviews, and lots of text and pictures about this work.

 

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"Chinese" well beyond Mandarin

A topic which I have raised here and elsewhere a number of times is that of Sinitic topolects and languages (www.sino-platonic.org/complete/spp029_chinese_dialect.pdf), and I have also called attention to the increasing domination of Mandarin in education and the media.  Even native speakers within China sometimes don't appreciate quite how varied the Sinitic group of languages can be.  People often say that someone can move from one valley to the next, or one village to the next, and just not be able to make themselves understood.  But until you've been in that situation yourself, it doesn't really hit home.  Before long, I'll post on Shanghainese and will provide audio recordings that will demonstrate clearly just how different it is from Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM).  There are countless other varieties of "Chinese" that are just as different from each other as Shanghainese (or Cantonese or Taiwanese, for that matter) are from MSM.

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