Teenagers Save Languages

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Kids these days, right? No respect for their elders, no respect for tradition…

If you’ve caught yourself thinking something like this, here’s a nugget of information that might surprise you: Teenagers in several different parts of the world are resurrecting endangered languages, using them for text messaging as well as online communication.

For example, according to Mobiledia.com, teens in southern Chile have been posting videos on YouTube of themselves rapping in a mixture of Spanish and Huilliche, an indigenous language with only about 2,000 speakers according to Wikipedia. Meanwhile, teens in parts of the Philippines text in  Kapampangan, a regional language. In parts of Mexico, young people similarly use the endangered language of Huave, with only 18,000 speakers, as a code for text messages.

While it’s probably too early to call these languages “saved” as Mobiledia did in its article, the fact that young people are adopting them is more than a little encouraging.

Linguist Samuel Herrera told the website that this development “really strengthens the use of the language.”

Also, according to Dr. Gregory Anderson, who directs the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, it is almost impossible to keep a language going if young people aren’t interested in reviving it. Dr. Anderson explained that

“somewhere between the ages of six and 25, people make a definitive decision whether or not to say to stay or break with a language. If the language isn’t being used by their peer group, then they reject it categorically.”

It can only be a good thing, then, that teens are embracing these fragile languages online and via their cell phones.