Posts

International Mother Language Day

The 21st February was the tenth International Mother Language Day. The day was officially named so by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

There are 6,000+ languages around the world and many of them are in increasing danger of becoming extinct. 2,500 languages are officially listed as endangered. According to UNESCO there are 5 levels of language strength. These are, unsafe, definitely endangered, severely endangered, critically endangered and extinct.

Worrying Statistics from the UNESCO

•    200 languages have become extinct in the last 3 generations.

•    538 languages are officially critically endangered

•    502 languages are severely endangered

•    632 languages are definitely endangered

•    607 languages are unsafe

The International Mother Language Day was set up to encourage people to take an interest in there mother tongue language. It is important that we do not let these languages become extinct.

In the UK the dominant language is English but there are many other languages which are slowly disappearing. Welsh is slowly being forgotten despite desperate efforts by the Welsh Assembly Government to increase awareness and even making it compulsory for commercial companies to have their welsh documents translated and interpretation facilities readily available.

Two old UK dialects are already extinct and have been since around the 1950’s. They are Manx (Spoken in the Isle of White) and Cornish (Spoken in Cornwall). Yola which is spoken in southern Ireland is also extinct.

International Mother Language Day is celebrated all over the world. Its objective is to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. Many countries have built monuments to help raise awareness and conserve their mother languages.

It is important that we recognise the importance of our ancestral languages and learn from older generations, keeping as many languages as possible alive.

Atlas

UNESCO to Release New Language Atlas

Earlier today, the AP reported on UNESCO’s release of the third edition of its Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. The atlas is available online for free, and a print version will be released in May.

The atlas maps the location and gives details about each of the 2,500 languages that linguists classify as endangered or are already extinct.

According to UNESCO, these languages will probably vanish before the end of the century if efforts are not made to preserve them now.

What languages are on the list, and where are they spoken?

Endangered languages are everywhere, actually. If you look up UK on the Atlas, you’ll see 12 languages. Four of these, Norn, Manx, Cornish and Alderney French, are already extinct. Scots and Welsh are rated as “unsafe,” while Yiddish, Romany, Irish and Scottish Gaelic show up as “definitely endangered.” Guernsey French and Jersey French are severely endangered.

The US has 191 endangered languages, mostly belonging to Native American tribes like the Menominee, which has 35 native speakers remaining. Sioux, the language of the great Native American chief Sitting Bull, is listed as “unsafe” with 25,000 speakers.

Then, there are languages like Silbo Gomero, spoken by about 1,000 people on La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands. This language is made up entirely of whistles, to help shepherds communicate over long distances on the island. However, Silbo Gomero may benefit from the efforts of Busuu.com, a language learning website based in Spain that teaches endangered languages to people all over the world.

Can the Internet help preserve this language?

In the Associated Press article referenced above, Francoise Riviere, deputy director of culture at UNESCO, said “We are trying to teach people that the language of the country from where we come is important, and what counts is being proud of one’s own language.”

Hopefully, projects like Busuu.com can help people learn to take pride in their native languages. Having people across the globe learn endangered languages like Silbo Gomero can certainly help preserve a record of the language, but what’s really important is that the people of La Gomera keep speaking it and passing along to their children.

Preserving languages isn’t just about the number of speakers-it’s also about keeping the culture of the people speaking the language intact.