Archive for the ‘language isolates’ Category

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.

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.

Chitimacha on Rosetta Stone

28 March 2011

Seven decades after the last speaker of Chitimacha (ctm) passed away, great steps are being taken to restore its place in the world as an active language. Chitimacha is a language isolate, once spoken in Louisiana, US.

As reported in “Chitimacha: Building Blocks for Revitalization” on “RVoice: Inside Rosetta Stone,” a Rosetta Stone version of their famous language-learning software has been completed for Chitimacha. Although terms had to be coined for modern words such as computer and newspaper, the language was well documented before it went dormant.

Much work lies ahead in fostering a new generation of speakers through developing the education program to incorporate and complement the software. Read more at “From the Endangered Language Program: Chitimacha Release.”

To learn more about Rosetta Stone’s work with language revitalization, see their Endangered Language Program Page.

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!