LINGUIST ATTEMPTS TO PROTECTED ENDANGERED LANGUAGES

LINGUIST ATTEMPTS TO PROTECTED ENDANGERED LANGUAGES

NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT (AP) _ DEEP IN THE STATE OF ALASKA, THERE ARE ONLY THREE HOUSEHOLDS WHERE KUSKOKWIM IS STILL SPOKEN. JUST TWO PEOPLE IN THEIR 70S KEEP THE KLAMATH LANGUAGE ALIVE IN OREGON. IN NORTHERN AUSTRALIA, ABOUT 10 NATIVE SPEAKERS CONTINUE TO CONVERSE IN JINGULU.
THESE ARE AMONG THE WORLD’S MOST ENDANGERED LANGUAGES, TONGUES THAT HAVE SUCCUMBED TO SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC PRESSURES THAT DEMAND PEOPLE LEARN MORE COMMON LANGUAGES SUCH AS ENGLISH.
LINGUISTS PREDICT HALF OF THE APPROXIMATELY 6,000 LANGUAGES SPOKEN TODAY WILL BE EXTINCT WITHIN THE NEXT CENTURY, AND THEY SAY AT LEAST 100 ARE DOWN TO ONE NATIVE SPEAKER.
YALE UNIVERSITY IS MAKING A MODEST EFFORT TO COUNTER THE TREND WITH A FUND THAT HELPS RESEARCHERS STUDY AND HELP RESURRECT DYING LANGUAGES, OFTEN BY COMPILING DICTIONARIES.
THE ENDANGERED LANGUAGE FUND, SET UP FOUR YEARS AGO BY LINGUIST DOUGLAS H. WHALEN, IS FINANCING ITS FIRST PROJECTS THIS YEAR. TEN PROJECTS, INCLUDING EFFORTS TO PRESERVE KUSKOKWIM, KLAMATH AND JINGULU, WILL EACH GET DLRS 1,000.
“I THINK PEOPLE OFTEN DON’T REALIZE THAT THERE’S CULTURAL VALUE IN THEIR LANGUAGE UNTIL IT’S TOO LATE,” WHALEN SAID.
IN SOME CASES, AS WITH NATIVE AMERICANS, LANGUAGES CAN BE THREATENED BY GOVERNMENTAL FORCE, HE SAID.
MORE OFTEN, THEY DIE BECAUSE OF THE INFLUENCE OF MORE COMMON LANGUAGES SUCH AS CHINESE, ENGLISH OR SWAHILI _ A PROCESS AIDED BY MODERN COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY.
EVEN WITH RELATIVELY FEW SPEAKERS, A LANGUAGE STILL MAY SURVIVE IF IT IS SPOKEN AS THE MAIN FORM OF COMMUNICATION WITHIN AN ISOLATED COMMUNITY.
CONVERSELY, HOWEVER, A LANGUAGE WITH THOUSANDS OF SPEAKERS MAY BE ENDANGERED IF IT ISN’T USED BY YOUNGER GENERATIONS.
THAT IS WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE TOHONO O’ODHAM LANGUAGE, AN INDIAN TONGUE SPOKEN BY ROUGHLY 12,000 PEOPLE IN SOUTHERN ARIZONA AND NORTHERN MEXICO.
WHILE THE ELDEST GENERATION STILL SPEAKS TOHONO O’ODHAM, MANY OF THEIR CHILDREN HAVE REFUSED TO TEACH IT TO THE NEXT GENERATION, DEFERRING TO ENGLISH BECAUSE THEY FACED DISCRIMINATION WHEN THEY SPOKE THEIR NATIVE LANGUAGE IN GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS, SAID OFELIA ZEPEDA, A GRANT RECIPIENT.
THE VALUE OF A COMMUNITY’S LANGUAGE CAN ONLY BE DETERMINED BY THE PEOPLE THEMSELVES, SAID KENNETH HALE, PROFESSOR OF LINGUISTICS AT THE MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY.
“IF MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY RECOGNIZE OR HAVE COME TO SEE THE BEAUTY AND STRENGTH AND COMPLEXITY AND VALUE OF THEIR LINGUISTIC HERITAGE, THEN THEY HAVE A PERFECT RIGHT AND IN FACT, A VERY STRONG MORAL RIGHT TO MAINTAIN IT,” HALE SAID.
“WHEN YOU LOSE A LANGUAGE, IT’S LIKE DROPPING A BOMB ON A MUSEUM.”
16 FEB 98

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