Archive for the ‘language types’ Category

Lexicon Valley talks about endangered languages

10 July 2012

In an episode of “Lexicon Valley” released yesterday, Mike Vuolo and Bob Garfield tackle the subject of endangered languages.

Titled “Should We Care When a Language Dies?” the audio show includes parts of an interview with David Harrison, Director of Research at the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. Harrison discusses the three areas of knowledge that are lost when a language dies: cultural, scientific and linguistic.

They also discuss the Endangered Languages Project recently launched as a Google project (see post on this blog).

Among the examples of endangered languages discussed are Urarina (ura), a language with the very rare structure OVS (object-verb-subject), and Bo or Aka-Bo (akm), which went silent two years ago.

Gyani Maiya Sen – last native speaker of Kusunda?

4 July 2012

Perhaps seven thousand years ago, millennia before the Kirant (Kirat) came and formed a kingdom, the Kusunda were already in Nepal. Hunter-gatherers of the forest, they call themselves the Mihaq.

Today, there are only two known fluent speakers of Kusunda (kgg): Kamala Khatri, who has left Nepal for work, and Gyani Maiya Sen, a 75-year-old woman who is excited about the research. The Kusunda have married exogamously and adopted the languages of their spouses, so that the language is not being transmitted to the next generation.

Madhav Prasad Pokharel, a professor at Tribhuvan University, has studied Kusunda for a decade and concludes that Kusunda is a language isolate, meaning it is unrelated to any other language.

One of Pokharel’s students, Bhojraj Gautam, learned to speak the language through working with Sen, and it appears he will be the last speaker of the language; the Nepal government has no program for Kusunda.

Read more at:

Vanishing Languages – three profiles

16 June 2012

Read Russ Rymer’s essays with a photograph by Lynn Johnson on Tuvan (tyv), Aka (or Hruso (hru)) and Seri (sei) at Vanishing Languages on the National Geographic website.

Among the highlights are Tuvan khöömei (throat singing), an Akan shaman’s sachet, and disdain for unshared wealth. Also, Seri is a language isolate.

Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre testifying for palawa kani

24 May 2012

In what appears to be part of the inquiry by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs into incorporating Aboriginal languages into the school curriculum (see “AU government hears how children light up when learning Yawuru“), a committee meeting was scheduled for today in Tasmania.

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre was expected to provide testimony on the state of palawa kani and how the national government is failing in its obligations to protect Aboriginal languages.

Without an ISO three-letter code and not listed in the Ethnologue, palawa kani is a reconstructed language, recreated from at least six local languages once spoken in Tasmania.

According to the Wikipedia article, the language was born in 1999. According to “palawa kani mapali [Tasmania],” the language was spoken in a presentation in Hawai’i that same year. According to “‘Language of the Month’ palawa Kani,” in 2005, a CD titled “pakana luwana liyini: Aboriginal Girls Sing” was released, featuring songs written by young local Aboriginal girls. It was produced following a CD two years earlier.

Also see “Dewayne singing Tasmanian Aboriginal song,” with a video of Dewayne Everettsmith singing in palawa kani about the connection to the land. Perhaps his sweet tones could be used to charm the Australian government!

(Capital letters are not used in palawa kani; the capital “K” in the Wikipedia article is due to a programming requirement that all Wikipedia articles begin with a capital letter.)

Chinuk Wawa dictionary published!

23 May 2012

When people who speak different languages come together, they develop a somewhat systematic way of talking referred to as a pidgin language. If that pidgin is adopted as a regular way of speaking and children learn it as a native language, the pidgin becomes a creole. (Thus, “Pidgin” spoken Hawai’i is actually a creole language, not a pidgin.)

In the Pacific Northwest region of the US, a pidgin called Chinook Jargon (chn) developed in the Columbia River area and spread in the areas now known as Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. It is debated whether Chinook Jargon existed before European contact, but it flourished in the contact period, and Chinook Jargon has lent words to English.

At some point, Chinook Jargon underwent creolization in the Grand Ronde Community, and survived while 27 native languages perished during the termination era.

In the 1970s, Chinook Jargon was taught in Grand Ronde, and in the 1990s, the language was renamed Chinuk Wawa with a new vision. Today, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde have preschool and kindergarten classes in Chinuk Wawa, and offer adult and family language learning opportunities as well.

As reported in the Seattle Times, a new Chinuk Wawa dictionary (presumably bilingual with English) is available. Titled in full “Chinuk Wawa / kakwa nsayka ulman-tilixam laska munk-kEmtEks nsayka / As Our Elders Teach Us to Speak It,” it is 494 page long and was compiled by the Chinuk Wawa Dictionary Project. It can be ordered from the University of Washington Press.

Videos for eight languages on Gadling

18 May 2012

Gadling, which bills itself as the “world’s top travel blog,” published a post today on eight seldom-heard languages. Each has a YouTube video to watch.

The languages include:

Report of last Yaghan speaker passing along the language

11 June 2011

Yagán or Yaghan (yag) is a language isolate (unrelated to other languages) spoken in Tierra del Fuego, off the southern coast of South America.

“Spoken” may be an overstatement, however, as the only speaker of the language is Cristina Calderón, a woman in her eighties who is generally known as abuela or grandmother.

According to a blog post by Jim dated today on the Cadwaladr, King of Gwynedd blog, Calderón is teaching her granddaughter, Cristina Zárraga, the language.

According to Wikipedia, the two along with Ursula Calderon, the sister of the older-generation Cristina, published “Hai Kur Mamashu Shis,” a collection of Yaghan stories in 2005.

According to “Hai Kur Mamashu Shis” on the Connections blog, blogger Jacqueline Windh and the younger-generation Cristina published an English-language version, and a new edition is planned for later this year.

The Intercontinental Dictionary Series has an online Yagán dictionary (select simple or advanced browsing to find the languages). The University of Chile also has information on Yagán in Spanish.

Review of “Spoken Review”

12 May 2011

John Well’s Phonetic Blog has a review of the book “Spoken Here: Travels among Threatened Languages.”

As mentioned in the review, the books’ author Mark Abley is not a linguist, but provides a range of information about threatened languages around the world.

One language mentioned in particular is Yuchi (yuc), a language isolate in the US.

A language isolate is one that cannot be demonstrated as being related to another language. English, for example, is related to Dutch, Frisian and German, and therefore is not an isolate.

Update: The blog post on John Well’s Phonetic Blog appears to have been taken down.

ALTA blog on languages

24 April 2011

ALTA Language Services is a translation company with a blog called “Beyond Words,” providing information on language since March 2008. Four of their posts over the past year have focused on endangered languages.

  1. Macanese (mzs)

On April 20, the post “Macanese” looks at a creole spoken in Macau (Macao), a special administration region of China and former colony of Portugal.

When people speaking different languages come together, a language sometimes comes into being and is known as a pidgin. If that pidgin becomes established and children begin learning it as their native language, it is then known as a creole.

The languages that were combined in the formation of Macanese are: Malay (msa), Sinhala (sin), Cantonese (yue), and Portuguese (por). According to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, there were 50 speakers of the language as of 2000. According to Wikipedia, the Macanese diaspora contributed to the loss of the community.

2. Koro (not yet classified by Ethnologue)

The discovery of the Koro Language in the Himalayas discusses Koro, a language discovered by the Enduring Voices Project.

3. Salish (family)

Spoken in the Pacific Northwest, the Salish languages are all endangered or extinct. As noted in the blog post “Salish,” there are signs written in Salish along the road in Montana.

4. Shiyeyi or Yeyi (yey)

Listed as “definitely endangered” with 20,000 speakers in 2000 by the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, Yeyi has more clicks than any other Bantu language. As noted in “Shiyeyi,” it is spoken in Southern Africa, primarily in the nation Botswana, though speakers are turning to Tswana (tsn), the most widely spoken language in Botswana.

Looking forward to more great articles on endangered languages and other language issues on Beyond Words!

Gullah-Geechee Conference on Saturday

31 March 2011

Gullah (gul), or Geechee as the language is known to insiders, is spoken by about 250,000 people on the East Coast of the US from the Carolinas to Florida. The language is a creole, based primarily on English with contributions from Akan, Bambara, Ewe, Fula, Hausa, Igbo, Kimbundu, Kongo, Mandinka, Mende, Umbundu, Vai, Wolof and Yoruba (all of which appear to have large speaking populations).

Cape Fear Community College is hosting a conference on Saturday, April 2, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Wilmington, North Carolina, US. The topic of the conference is the future of the Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.

The Gullah people are an African-American population with a unique culture within the United States. Many Americans are familiar with the Brer Rabbit (Brer = Brother) stories about a trickster rabbit, an oral tradition of the Gullahs.

The Gullah people are working to maintain their culture, including their language. In 2005, a New Testament was completed in Gullah after 20 years of work.

YouTube has a video by Richard Green on Ultimate Gullah, a store and cultural center in South Carolina. Gullah/Geechee Nation is one of the pages on Facebook focused on Gullah culture.

A glossary of some Gullah words can be found at “A Glossary of Gullah Wordstaken from The Black Border by Ambrose E. Gonzales” and the full text of the book at “The black border; Gullah stories of the Carolina coast.” Gullah songs can be found at Gullah. The movie “Conrack” about a white schoolteacher who gets a job on an island teaching African-American children is a true story that took place in a Gullah community. Many other books and movies are also available.