Friday, 29 August 2008

On a top ten of endangered languages

The Guardian does some interesting 'top tens', but none more so than the one which has just appeared.
Peter Austin, who directs the endangered languages documentation project at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, has just compiled a personal selection. An impossible task, in some ways, given that he had to select from some 3000 candidates. But it makes fascinating reading.

9 comments:

MM said...

Here's another

Athel Cornish-Bowden said...

I agree that Peter Austin's article makes fascinating reading. I am less enthusiastic about the site that mm links to above. In particular, I am shocked by the following entry, which seems to be supporting the right of a small unelected (and I believe unrepresentative) group to "authorise" or not the translation of a work into their language:

Mapuche: important for the recognition of Indigenous Intellectual Property Rights, since they took Microsoft to court over an unauthorised software translation.

I know which of the two parties to this dispute I think is doing more to endanger the survival of MapudungĂșn, and it's not Microsoft. (I have expressed this view in more detail on the other blog.)

Claire said...

I responded to this on my blog, noting that my reasons for including the language were as an example of how intellectual property rights are worth discussing, and that cases such as the Microsoft one raise important issues. I was not taking sides in the case.

baralbion said...

I was wondering in a discussion elsewhere whether any language, such as, say, Cornish, having ceased to be anyone’s native language, had subsequently been resurrected as such. Someone suggested Hebrew. Can you, David, or anyone else confirm that?

DC said...

Yes. I've got some discussion of this in Language Death. Hebrew is the classic case of language revival, certainly. Cornish is doing quite well again, with a couple of hundred speakers now, I believe. Manx is back on the syllabus again. And elsewhere there are some famous cases, such as the Australian aboriginal language Kaurna, revived after a century. None of this could have happened, of course, if the languages hadn't been documented. That is why the kind of work Peter Austin and his colleagues are doing at SOAS is so important. About a third of the world's languages remain undocumented; and when an undocumented language dies, it is as if it has never been.

Sarah said...

I'm sure you've seen the article on the BBC today re. grammar errors http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7595509.stm

I'd be interested to hear what you think of some of these complaints.

DC said...

They make me feel tired! They're not much different from the top twenty I compiled in 1980 for Radio 4, and you can trace some of them back and back into the 19th century. If only some of that negative energy could be channelled into doing something positive for endangered languages...

Nigel Greenwood said...

Re Cornish. There's even an incipient Cornish Wikipedia. See:
http://kw.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kernow.

Nigel Greenwood said...

Sorry, I didn't format that Cornish Wikipedia link properly.