Archive for the ‘sign languages’ 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.

Where Are Your Keys?

4 June 2011

Where Are Your Keys or WAYK is a language learning technique focused on enjoying the flow and engaging the brain. Incorporating Total Physical Response elements with the idea that learners learn better with physical energy, WAYK is an immersion learning technique (that is, not using English, for example, to help teach) that has been used since 1992. In WAYK games, learners learn by copying the movements and speech of the person leading.

The technique gets its name because you can judge the language fluency of another person based on the response to everyday questions such as Where are your keys?

Developed originally by Evan Gardner and co-developed by Willem Larsen, WAYK is also an organization that provides workshops and support to help people spread language learning with WAYK.

To facilitate the learning process, ASL or American Sign Language is used during the sessions. Because of their visual nature, sign languages can provide important clues that aid the learner.

In the below video, David Edwards is showing Chris how to “play” WAYK, using Mandarin. This is the first time for Chris to play.


By the end of the video, Chris has developed a keen sense of how to use the language he has been practicing in the game.

One of the goals of WAYK is to assist communities in revitalizing their languages. While WAYK works best in a live situation such as above, they are also developing a video library for situations where live communication is not possible. Here is a video with a first lesson in Chinuk Wawa or Chinook Jargon (chn).

Chinuk Wawa 1: “ikta ukuk” from Willem Larsen on Vimeo.

It is clear that the person-to-person environment is an advantage to this method. Skype, a free videoconferencing program, is also used with WAYK.

As people gain proficiency in WAYK and can learn languages more quickly, they are referred to as “language hunters.”

WAYK has two upcoming workshops on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, US, from July 18 to 22 and from July 25 to 29. The program will help speakers of Numu or Northern Paiute (pao) revitalize their language.

WAYK has built a community in a variety of media. See their About Us page for Facebook, Twitter, Google Groups and other resources.

Task Force to Study African Language Requirement

7 April 2011

South Africa has 11 official languages. Only Afrikaans (a descendant of Dutch) and English were official until 1994, when nine other Bantu languages were added. Today, English is the primary language of government, and both English and Afrikaans are used prominently in commerce.

Despite such usage, in terms of speaker population in South Africa, Zulu has 10 million and Xhosa has 7.8 million, greatly outnumbering Afrikaans at 4.7 million speakers and English at 3.6 million. Additionally, Northern and Souther Sotho have 4.1 and 4.2 million speakers, respectively. The other five languages have about 8 million speakers.

Therefore people speaking Afrikaans or English are unable to communicate with vast numbers of their fellow South Africans, a fact that has caught the attention of Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande. He has proposed that all university students be required to learn at least one African language as a condition for graduation.

According to “PanSALB seconds call to revive African languages” on the BuaNews site, the Pan South African Language Board welcomes this announcement. The article cites acting CEO Chris Swepu of PanSALB as saying, “…most university graduates who work in government can’t speak to the public because they don’t know an African language.”

As demonstrated by the article “Students differ over African languages plan” on the Sowetan website, Nzimande’s call is controversial.

According to “Students could need an African language to graduate – Nzimande” on the City Press site, an advisory panel has been asked to look into the issue.

While this announcement does not directly relate to any endangered language, the potential decision to add this sort of language to graduation requirements has application to many endangered language situations.

The PanSALB strives for equal status among the official languages as well as Kxoe (xuu), Khoekhoe (naq), San (unclear) and South African Sign Language (sfs).

News in Brief: Minderico in Portugal, SLA Delays Dementia, Speaking Latin

15 March 2011

Among the wonderful findings in the 2009 HRELP conference Langauge Documentation & Linguistic Theory 2 is a paper on Minderico, a language in Portugal. Titled “Minderico: an endangered language in Portugal,” the paper by Vera Ferreira and Peter Bouda describes the origin of Minderico as a way to keep secrets from others during business dealings. The article notes that with the pressures of Portuguese, there were only a few hundred speakers as of around 2006. One of the points of the paper is that there are languages still unknown even in Western Europe, where the status of languages is generally thought to be well understood. Indeed, the Ethnologue does not have a listing for Minderico. See also Languages of Portugal for dialect details of Portuguese and Portuguese Sign Language (psr).

A large percentage of the world’s population speaks at least two languages. Research now shows that in addition to increasing one’s ability to communicate with others, bilingualism may have the health benefit of delaying dementia. See more at the Telegraph: Speaking a second language could delay dementia by five years. It is not clear whether this talk is available. Although there was a talk scheduled by Ellen Bialystok in February at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the recordings from that conference have only one item by her, with a different title and other authors.

Latin (lat), the language of the ancient Romans, developed into Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and all of the other Romance languages. Monks and others in the Catholic Church continued using Latin as a written and religious language, and it underwent changes through those uses as well. For generations, pupils have been told that Latin is not for speaking, but that is no longer the case. For one resource, see Septentrionale Americanum Latinitatis Vivae Institutum. Their next large immersion gathering, Rusticatio, will take place in the eastern US state of West Virginia from July 9 to 16. The cost for everything except transportation to and from is USD 825. This news item was inspired by the blog post “Finding a ‘dead language’ alive and well in the Eternal City.”

Additional note on Latin: Check out the FAQ page of the Septentrionale Americanum Latinitatis Vivae Institutum. To get started in speaking Latin, their advice is to start by speaking. They say, “Make simple sentences with the words you already know – ‘Habito Baltimorae’ (I live in Baltimore), ‘Sunt mihi duo fratres’ (I have two siblings).” Although not complete by any means, two great resources for finding Latin words are Wikipedia and Wiktionary. For example, go to the Wikipedia entry for London, and find the Latina entry in the left column. This option is available for the London entry on Wiktionary as well, but also note there is a translation section that shows the Latin translation if you click on the “Show” button.

ELF Newsletter

30 September 2006

The ELF newsletter is out and looks sharp. No fewer than 11 grants were made in 2006, benefitting projects for 12 languages and language groups: Arapaso (arj), Ghulfan (ghl), Kalabari (ijn), Karinya/Carib (car), Karapana (link to lineage), Kundal Shahi language (link to lineage), the signed Meemul Tziij complex (no Ethnologue entry), Pasi (listed as adi), Quichua/Ecuadorian (qvo), Southern Tiwa (tix), Tutudin (perhaps equivalent to tuu Tututni), Yakima Sahaptin (yak).

These languages represent a wide range of human culture over four continents. Projects include a children’s dictionary, dialect clarification, a language camp, and historical clarification of possibly the oldest documentable sign languages in the world.

Among the news is that ELF newsletter editor Nick Emlen is running a marathon to benefit the ELF, tomorrow, in Portland.

Get involved! In addition to joining the ELF, attend a lecture by Noam Chomsky on November 15, 2006, regarding language diversification to benefit the ELF. In addition to the lecture, there will be a separate reception.