Archive for the ‘Ainu (ain)’ Category

Revitalizing the languages of Okinawa

23 May 2012

The Ethnologue lists 15 languages in Japan. Ainu (ain) is spoken in the north by an estimated 15 people, Japanese is the national language, and Korean is spoken by an estimated 670,000 people (1988). Japanese Sign Language (jsl) is also spoken by about 315,000 people.

The other 11 languages are in the Ryukyuan family, located in Okinawa, a 1,000-kilometer-long archipelago of hundreds of islands extending from southern Kyushu to Taiwan.

The Ryukyuan languages are related to Japanese, but the connection is distant. Nevertheless, for social reasons, Japanese people (including Okinawans themselves) often refer to Ryukyuan languages as mere dialects of Japanese.

Enter Byron Fija, a half-Okinawan, half-American. Proud of his ability to speak Okinawan (ryu), also known as Central Okinawan or Uchinaaguchi, he teaches the language in an effort to maintain and revitalize it.

Read more in “Okinawans push to preserve unique language.” Also, “Okinawans Try to Preserve Dying Language” has part of that article with English subtitles/subtitles (after the opener), plus a video and more links.

The other languages listed in the Ethnologue with estimated populations are:

Wikipedia does not have articles on all of these languages. See the article Amami language for languages without a link.

Two Tales of Endangered Language Passion

25 March 2011

As reported in Passion for Preservation, Sadaf Munshi travels from Texas to remote regions of Pakistan every chance she gets, somewhat like Indy Jones to document Burushaski (bsk). Battling floods, closed roads and cultural attitudes against women speaking with men, she documents words, songs and dances.

Burushaski is a language isolate, which means it is not related to any other known language. Most languages are related to other languages. English, for example, is related to the Frisian languages (family) and Dutch as well as to German. Spanish is related to French and Italian. Basque (eus) in Spain and France and Ainu (ain) in northern Japan have not been demonstrated as being related to other languages and so are isolates.

In addition to being an isolate, Burushaski is almost completely unwritten. As Munshi has discovered, words in Burushaski are beginning to be replaced with Urdu words, and there is a concern that if the language is not documented, the language will be absorbed and disappear.

With Munshi’s work, the language will be written and documented for posterity.

The other tale of endangered language passion is that of a teenager, Alexa Little, who lives in a township in Pennsylvania, US. As told in “Shaler teen’s love of languages began with hieroglyphics,” Little became interested in ancient languages as a young child. In high school, she won a scholarship by developing an efficient method for typing Queche (probably Quechua (que)).

When Shaler read about the World Oral Literature Project to document endangered languages, she contacted the director who suggested she raise money to raise awareness. Earning more than USD 200, she then went on to organize a symposium that included linguistic experts from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Cambridge. Students from other high schools attended the event as well.

Shaler plans to become a linguist. It seems she has a bright future in front of her!


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