The tragedy of dying languages

Discussion in 'Religion & Culture' started by HEILTAMIL, Mar 17, 2013.

  1. HEILTAMIL

    HEILTAMIL Regular Member

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    The death of the last speaker of an ancient language in India's Andaman Islands highlights the fact that half of the world's 7,000 languages are in danger of disappearing. Linguist K David Harrison argues that we still have much to learn from vanishing languages.

    My journey as a scientist exploring the world's vanishing languages has taken me from the Siberian forests to the Bolivian Altiplano, from a McDonald's in Michigan to a trailer park in Utah. In all these places I've listened to last speakers - dignified elders - who hold in their minds a significant portion of humanity's intellectual wealth.
    Boa Sr
    Boa Sr, who died this week, was the last speaker of the 70, 000-year-old Bo

    Though it belongs solely to them and has inestimable value to their people, they do not hoard it. In fact they are often eager to share it. What can we learn from these languages before they go extinct? And why should we lift a finger to help rescue them?

    As the last speakers converse, they spin individual strands in a vast web of knowledge, a noosphere of possibilities. They tell how their ancestors calculated accurately the passing of seasons without clocks or calendars. How humans adapted to hostile environments, from the Arctic to Amazonia.

    We imagine eureka moments taking place in modern laboratories or classical civilizations. But key insights of biology, pharmacology, genetics, and navigation arose and persisted solely by word of mouth, in small, unwritten tongues. Finally, this web of knowledge contains feats of human ingenuity -epics, myths, rituals - that celebrate and interpret our existence.

    Pundits argue that linguistic differences are little more than random drift, minor variations in meaning and pronunciation that emerge over time (the British say 'lorry', Americans 'truck'; Tuesday is CHEWS-day, for Brits, TOOZ-day for Americans).

    THE LINGUISTS
    Professor K David Harrison
    The Linguists, a film featuring the work of Professor K David Harrison and colleague Gregory Anderson as they travel the world documenting the world's vanishing tongues, was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008. Dr Harrison is a linguist at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, and director of research for the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages.
    Photo: Kris Krug

    These reveal nothing interestingly different about our souls or minds, some claim. But that's like saying that the Pyramid of Cheops differs from Notre Dame Cathedral only by stone-cutting techniques that evolved randomly in different times and places; revealing nothing unique in the ancient Egyptian or Medieval French imagination.

    All cultures encode their genius in verbal monuments, while considerably fewer do so in stone edifices. We might as well proclaim human history banal, and human genius of no value to our survival.

    The fate of languages is interlinked with that of species, as they undergo parallel extinctions. Scientific knowledge is comparable for both domains, with an estimated 80% of plant and animal species unknown to science, and 80% of languages yet to be documented.

    But species and ecosystems unknown to science are well-known to local people, whose languages encode not only names for things, but also complex interrelations among them.

    Packaged in ways that resist direct translation, this knowledge dissipates when people shift to speaking global tongues. What the Kallawaya of Bolivia know about medicinal plants, how the Yupik of Alaska name 99 distinct sea ice formations, how the Tofa of Siberia classify reindeer. Entire domains of ancient knowledge, only scantily documented, are rapidly eroding.

    I have to talk to myself. There's nobody left to talk to, all the elders have passed on
    Johnny Hill, Jr, Chemehuevi tribe, Arizona

    Linguistic survivors hold the fates of languages in their minds and mouths.

    Johnny Hill, Jr of the Chemehuevi tribe of Arizona is a big, imposing man, but he instantly wins people over with his gentle humility. Designated "last speaker" of Chemehuevi, Johnny achieved celebrity in the 2008 documentary film The Linguists.

    Although he had never previously travelled far from his reservation or flown on an aeroplane, Johnny mesmerized film festival-goers with his life story. Raised by his grandmother who spoke only Chemehuevi, Johnny learned English at school seeking a path out of isolation.

    At the other end of his lifespan, Johnny finds himself linguistically isolated once again. "I have to talk to myself," he explains resignedly. "There's nobody left to talk to, all the elders have passed on, so I talk to myself... that's just how it is."

    Johnny has tried to teach his children and others in the tribe. "Trouble is," he sighs, "they say they want to learn it, but when it comes time to do the work, nobody comes around."

    Speakers react differently to loss - from indifference to despair - and adopt diverse strategies. Some blame governments or globalization, others blame themselves. Around the world, a growing wave of language activists works to revitalize their threatened tongues. Positive attitudes are the single most powerful force keeping languages alive, while negative ones can doom them.
    Archive picture of Chief George Blanco of the Baizam clan in the Torres Islands
    An archive picture of a clan leader welcoming a dignitary to one of the Torres Islands

    Two dozen language hotspots have now been identified globally, and new technologies are being mobilised to the cause.

    A Torres Straits' Islander in Australia told me: "Our language is standing still, we need to make it relevant to today's society. We need to create new words, because right now we can't say 'computer'."

    The lowly text message may lift obscure tongues to new levels of prestige, translated software may help them cross the digital divide. Hip-hop performed in threatened tongues, as I've heard among young Aka speakers in India, infuses new vitality.

    Language revitalisation will prove to be one of the most consequential social trends of coming decades. This push-back against globalization will profoundly influence human intellectual life, deciding the fate of ancient knowledge.

    What hubris allows us, cocooned comfortably in our cyber-world, to think that we have nothing to learn from people who a generation ago were hunter-gatherers? What they know - which we've forgotten or never knew - may some day save us.

    We hear their voices, now muted, sharing knowledge in 7,000 different ways of speaking. Let's listen while we still can.

    K David Harrison is the author of the forthcoming book The Last Speakers: The Quest to Uncover the World's Most Endangered Languages.


    source :BBC News - The tragedy of dying languages


    some fllow DFIans have repeatedly argued, why a language should be more importance,
    this article may not reflect my ideas!!
     
    bharata and W.G.Ewald like this.
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  3. HEILTAMIL

    HEILTAMIL Regular Member

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    What hubris allows us, cocooned comfortably in our cyber-world, to think that we have nothing to learn from people who a generation ago were hunter-gatherers? What they know - which we've forgotten or never knew - may some day save us.

    no opinion any viewers, on this little informative article
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2013
  4. dhananjay1

    dhananjay1 Regular Member

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    The development of separate languages is the result of cultural isolation, now that connectivity is increasing the languages that are spoken by few thousand individuals are bound to go extinct. One can study and record these languages but when people see more advantage in learning dominant languages, these endangered languages would eventually cease to be as spoken day to day languages.
     
  5. HEILTAMIL

    HEILTAMIL Regular Member

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    language is the first step of civilization between a brute animal and human,
    a living being turned into human and his primary consciousness is developed based on the language and
    a human and civilization can only evolve if and only he realize and acknowledge this,

    the choices that he make is based on the history and knowledge of the past
    if he wants to function as a human which is a choice of course:thumb:
     
  6. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

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    Don't worry Tamil is not going to die any time soon. :D
     
  7. HEILTAMIL

    HEILTAMIL Regular Member

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    I don't TAMIL IS OMNI-PRESENT,

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. -thanks to Jesus

    tamzhizh maraindadu paar mudaal pootham, (=Aham Tamilasmi/nirvana)

    Islam represents his holiness and his holiness reprsents Tamil( sorry don't know arabic)
    :namaste:
     
  8. vram

    vram Regular Member

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    NO LANGUAGE is greater or lesser than another. But the fact remains that everything changes in this world and nothing lives forever. Not EVEN the mountains.
    There might have been numerous languages that where lost through the past couple of millenia..and it is hubris on our part to think that we can preserve all this. We are not GODS. I feel sad when no more speakers of a particular language live but definitely do not regret it..
     
  9. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    @HEILTAMIL

    Firstly, I do appreciate your stating your location as "UNION OF INDIA."

    Secondly, language is but only one side of a culture. For Tamils (or for that matter anyone), it is not only the language, but the music, dance, art, cuisine, clothing, all form part of the culture. I can assure you, that at least a few of the aforementioned facets, such as dance and cuisine, will be well preserved by others. That is the beauty of India. We always try to learn cultural aspects from other states.
     
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  10. HEILTAMIL

    HEILTAMIL Regular Member

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    i humbly insists you to reason well,
    your concept of culture can arise only when a brute animal has a defined consciousness,

    reason how consciousness can arise, how we can implement aritifical intelliegence with out
     
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  11. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

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    Latin died. Closer home Sanskrit is on the verge of.
     
  12. HEILTAMIL

    HEILTAMIL Regular Member

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    i am not saying TAMIL is greater than any other language:taunt:,
    here tamil represents LANGUAGE NOT PEOPLE, please do not get offended

    all TAMIL SCHOLARS from their heart consider themselves to be nothing but just a piece of dust, to whoever loves and promotes any language

    but i am talking about all the languages, so does the article
    India alone is home to many indigenous self developed greatest language,
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2013
  13. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    My post does not fully agree with this comment in the opening post:
    It is not true that all cultures encode their genius in 'verbal monuments' (whatever that means). What is verbal, is what is spoken. A monument is a physical building. Yes, you can have 'writings' on monuments, but anything that is written is not verbal.

    Secondly, cultures do not preserve their genius merely through 'verbal monuments;' but also through art, architecture, cuisine, dance, etc..

    Hope that clarifies my point.
     
  14. vram

    vram Regular Member

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    Dude I was not offended or anything. I liked your post :). MY reply was just generic to the topic. We as humans in general(not any particular people) like to think that we have great influenze on destiny and all that...But the course of life is brutal as History shows us, Do you really think that countries in the current form like (INDIA,CHINA) etc... will be there even another thousand years down the line..I dont think so ..hence where is the question of langauges surviving?
     
  15. HEILTAMIL

    HEILTAMIL Regular Member

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    all i can say too is ,you need improvise your knowledge of the language of english, to understand what is implied, no-offence intended

    :namaste:
    @vram, sorry ping time error
     
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  16. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

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    You are not making any sense. Moreover, it is difficult to debate on surrealistic comments. The opening post is an example of that. BTW, from my limited knowledge of the language, I can tell you that 'English' is a proper noun, so you should capitalize it. :namaste:
     
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  17. HEILTAMIL

    HEILTAMIL Regular Member

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    i acknowledge and apologise that a one-liner will not give the exact picture, but i believe it has the message that i have to convey to u
     
  18. GPM

    GPM Tihar Jail Banned

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    That Heiltamil is not himself clear. That Andaman language has gone extinct. Many languages have gone extinct because there are no speakers. Indus Valley seals show a language gone extinct, and the language is defying efforts to decode it. That is the case of many other languages. Almost all the native N. American languages are dead. Mayan language is dead, no speakers, all literature except 3 books burned by xian missionaries. Every native of Tasman Island, Australia, was killed and languages wiped out. Many languages have been politically wiped out. Portugese tried this with Konkani, to the extent that speaking it was a crime even.
     
  19. tramp

    tramp Senior Member Senior Member

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    Sanskrit died as a spoken language long back... or I am not sure Sanskrit was ever spoken by the masses.
     
  20. tramp

    tramp Senior Member Senior Member

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    Tamil has evolved much over time... and if somebody who lived and died in the 18th century comes back and insists today's Tamil people should speak his language because that is the more pure form, nobody is going to listen to it.
    Total isolation is the only way to preserve the purity of any language. But with human interaction growing, languages evolve borrowing words/syllables from another language. And over a period of time it will be difficult to recognise the more pure form of language.
    For eg... I do not think even the most hardcore Tamil language lovers will enjoy trying to decipher Sangam era Tamil.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2013
  21. arya

    arya Senior Member Senior Member

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    one country one one lang.. one religion is good for any nation

    my personal view
     

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