Treasure Language

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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.

Here's a flyer that's been distributed in Eritrean and Laotian restaurants and places of worship:


  1. Mat Bettinson said,

    December 1, 2015 @ 4:15 pm

    This is wonderful, but of course since Steven is my supervisor I would say that :)

    I wonder if this isn't also a model that would work well when there's a similar migration of native speakers from their traditional homelands within a country. I have specifically in mind the situation in Taiwan where I do my work. Elders lament the movement of younger people from the mountains to the mega cities, and all the opportunities they provide, just a couple of hours away. There are things that happen like this but they are more like cultural exhibitions. I really like the idea of model of "listen to the stories of our elders". In my limited experience, this is a powerful draw even for people who aren't yet sold on the idea of re-acquiring their heritage language.

  2. maidhc said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 3:00 am

    There are a lot of little ethnic communities around the Bay Area. Many of them seem rather reluctant to engage with the community at large. I suppose they want to preserve their culture, but events like this might help them to feel that the community values their culture.

    My wife has developed an interest in Ethiopian cuisine, so we've been going around to some of the little Ethiopian grocery stores to buy spices, injera, etc. They've been friendly, but a bit puzzled as to why non-Ethiopians would want to buy this stuff.

    I wish we'd hear more from the Native Americans. I'd really like to get a better understanding of their perspective on how they see our landscape.

  3. Adam F said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 5:47 am

    I don't have anything to contribute, but I really like the term "treasure language".

  4. Xmun said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 6:04 pm

    Is this use of "treasure" a calque of Maori "taonga"? There are public signs such as "He taonga te wai" (Water is a treasure, i.e. a precious resource), and one might well say "He taonga te reo" (substituting "language" for "water").

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