Sunday, 17 May 2015

Dying Languages

by Lottie Perry-Evans


Marie Wilcox
English, French, Spanish, German and Italian are all languages we are very familiar with. However, if I said that there are almost 7,000 languages spoken throughout the world, how would you react? 

Every year we lose around 25 mother tongues and by the year 2100 it is more than likely that we will have lost over half of the world’s languages; this is a thought which makes me quite sad. The majority of the languages we will lose, hold so much history and can tell us so much about the culture of the small native tribes which speak them. There are 576 critically endangered languages throughout the world and 231 already extinct.

One woman, Marie Wilcox (aged 81), has recognised the danger that native languages are in and is doing her best to try and save one of those languages. Marie is one of the remaining 200 members of the Wukchumni tribe and is the last fluent speaker of their language. Fortunately she is doing all she can to preserve her tribe’s language. Marie learned how to use a computer in order to create a Wukchumni dictionary, so that in many years her language will live on. Marie has worked on this dictionary, night and day for seven years and has also begun to teach her grandson the basics of the language. Marie Wilcox also teaches weekly classes with her daughter however, it seems that there are few devoted to learning this language. Thanks to the dedication of this hardworking woman, in the year 2100 when nearly half of the world’s languages have been lost, we will still have the Wukchumni language. Here is a link to a video about  Marie: http://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/380457/saving-wukchumni/

The languages we are likely to lose in the next century are not just those rare, almost unheard of languages spoken by Native American tribes but they also include languages far closer to home. I was shocked to discover that 90% of European languages are critically endangered. Irish, Welsh and Cornish have all been classified as vulnerable or endangered languages, very few people speak these languages fluently, however, they are now being taught in schools in an attempt to revitalise them. Cornish is a language which only 574 people speak fluently. However, although this number may be small, this language was once classified as extinct but has recently undergone a marked revival and is finding expression once again through literature, art, music and film.

With the disappearance of unwritten and undocumented languages, humanity would not only lose cultural wealth but also important ancestral knowledge embedded within these indigenous languages. Language and culture go hand in hand with one another, culture is interwoven in the language and language within the culture, and this can be seen when looking at tribes such as the Wukchumni tribe, whose culture can only be demonstrated through their language. There are some words in the Wukchumni language which cannot be translated into English because they cannot be related to anything within English culture. Future generations are likely to become two dimensional in the event that these endangered and vulnerable languages are lost so I think it is vital that we attempt to save as many as possible while we still can.



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