When asked to name a linguistically diverse place, I would have said Papua New Guinea, and if asked to name a stereotypically monolingual country, I would have named the USA. However, this recent report from the New York Times suggests that, due to its large immigrant population, New York harbours more endangered languages than anywhere else on Earth (tipped off from Edinburgh University’s Lang Soc Blog). From a field linguists’ point of view this may make discovery of and access to minority languages much easier (although may mean the end of exotic holidays). From a cultural evolution point of view, a more global community may mean a radically different kind of competition between languages. Nice video below:
A new documentary has been made about the resurrection of the Wampanoag language which has a few screenings coming up next month in the US. DVD’s are also available and details of both can be found here.
The story begins in 1994 when Jessie Little Doe, an intrepid, thirty-something Wampanoag social worker, began having recurring dreams: familiar-looking people from another time addressing her in an incomprehensible language. Jessie was perplexed and a little annoyed– why couldn’t they speak English? Later, she realized they were speaking Wampanoag, a language no one had used for more than a century. These events
sent her and members of the Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanaog communities on an odyssey that would uncover hundreds of documents written in their language, lead Jessie to a Masters in Linguistics at MIT, and result in something that had never been done before – bringing a language alive again in an American Indian community after many generations with no Native speakers.
Although I haven’t seen the film it sounds to be very much in the same vein as “the linguists” which came out in 2008. The Linguists follows two field linguists as they travel to document and help promote the rescue of near-extinct languages.
Documenting and reviving languages is an important thing to do as it increases our understanding of language. Every time a language dies we lose data which can inform us on the interactions between cognitive constraints and culture. A language dies every 14 days. Bearing that in mind, here’s a few links if you’re interested in this stuff:
SAIVUS (Society to Advance Indigenous Vernaculars of the United States): http://www.saivus.org/
Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project: http://wlrp.org/
Enduring voices: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/enduring-voices/
And a whole bunch of other links here: http://www.saivus.org/saivuslinks.html