Archive for the ‘language maintenance’ Category

A language dies every how many days?

11 July 2012

In the field of language endangerment, a common estimate is that half of the languages living today will fall silent in this century (or over the next 100 years).

The Ethnologue counts 6,909 languages living today, and 7,000 is also a common estimate of the number of languages currently spoken.

Yet a third estimate is that a language falls silent every 14 days. But 100 years multiplied by 365 days per year and divided by 14 results in 2,607 languages.

So if 3,500 languages will die over the next 100 years, how many days is that on average? Dividing 3,500 languages by 100 years yields 35 languages per year, and dividing 365 (days/year) by 35 languages yields 10.43 days.

Given the rapid increase in efforts to stabilize and revitalize languages, there is hope that neither the 14-day or 10.43-day estimate will come true, but even so, both are averages and languages will not die in an even manner. Rather, language silence will occur in uneven clumps.

Admittedly, though, citing one language as dying every 14 days makes for good press.

Guns, Germs and Steel effect in language protection?

16 June 2012

In his book “Guns, Germs and Steel,” Jared Diamond argues that the way history unfolded was greatly determined by geography. Among his theses, landmasses with a wide horizontal span have an easier time at trading because climates are more similar than in landmasses with a vertical span.

Prompted by that, David Laitin and other researchers at Stanford University have come to the conclusion that countries longer than wide are better at preserving languages.

Read more about the study in “How geography shapes cultural diversity.”

Speaking in a mother tongue speaks to the heart

26 May 2012

There are about 400 languages in Nigeria, including the official language (English) and the national languages Hausa (hau), Igbo (ibo) and Yoruba (yor), each with at least 20 million speakers.

Yet even such widely spoken tongues face pressure. Take Beatrice Ejiogu, whose first language is English because her Igbo parents adopted English and sent her to South Africa for schooling. She has returned to Nigeria for university but cannot communicate with her grandparents. As reported in “Using language as instrument of national identity,” her situation is common among the youth of today in Nigeria.

According to Ukegbu Kazi, a secondary school principal, parents should always speak to their children in their native tongues to preserve their linguistic and cultural heritage.

The importance of doing so is summarized in a quote in the article from former South African President Nelson Mandela, who evidently once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Yiddish in Winnipeg

22 May 2012

The Ethnologue claims 5,400 first-language speakers of Western Yiddish (yih) and 1.7 million of Eastern Yiddish (ydd), though estimates vary as reported by Wikipedia.

As also reported in Wikipedia, Yiddish is a fusion of German, Hebrew and Slavic languages with borrowings from other languages. The name Yiddish itself means “Jewish.” Yiddish has made many contributions to English, and Wikipedia has a list of such words.

Today, the Mameloshen Festival of Yiddish Entertainment and Culture starts in Winnipeg, Canada. In addition to the three shows in this year’s festival, Winnipeg has a weekly Yiddish radio program on CKJS hosted by Rochelle Zucker and a women’s Yiddish reading group.

This blog post was inspired by “Yiddish is alive and well in Winnipeg” which has a lot more information about Yiddish and Yiddish in Winnipeg.

Language Maintenance Symposium in August – AU

10 June 2011

On August 18 and 19, a symposium titled “Strengthening language maintenance through cooperative training strategies” will be held at the University of Melbourne.

In addition to people from Australia, the slate of speakers features people from Canada, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Spain and the US.

A grant from the Maintenance of Indigenous Languages and Records will be supporting the symposium, and the cosponsors are: