Endangered Languages Week

Did you know this was endangered languages week?  I didn’t, but I’m glad it’s happening.  With all the alarming news that has hogged the headlines over the past few months, endangered languages have sunk to a lower rung of our consciousness, mine anyway.  So it’s time to stop and think for a moment about the many benefits of  preserving endangered languages:

1.  Every language embodies a system of family and governmental relationships, titles, and rules. Nobody has gotten either system right yet, and we can learn a lot from each other. These systems disappear with the language.

2.  Every language uses a certain set of sounds, which express themselves in everything from lullabies to swear words. These help us understand the human brain, and our physical capabilities.

3.  Can you imagine a world in which there was no longer a  “Rock-a-Bye Baby,” or an “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud,” not to mention, “To be or not to be” which other people could understand? Literature and music has been composed in every tongue, whether the culture is literate or not.

4. More than one set of experiments has proven that knowing more than one language improves our method of learning everything else as well, and develops the brain.

5.  Extinguishing language means extinguishing identity, relegating certain groups to inferior status. This goes against our principles of self-worth and democracy.

6.  Now. If only the Spanish-, Greek-, and French-speaking people I know would answer me in Spanish, Greek, or French when I address them in their native tongue.  The United States not only does not foster multilingualism, it mutes the tongues of people who immigrate. It annoys the hell out of me that I cannot practice my second, third, and fourth languages with people who live around me.  The less they respond in their native tongue, the less I hear their native languages, and the quicker I lose contact with them.

7.  We embrace diversity in all else, why not in language? There is a virtue unto itself of diversity.

Endangered Languages Week 2013 –  Here is a weeklong celebration of same in England, if any of you happen through this week.

Celebrating our Sounds, Signs and Songs

SOAS, Russell Square, London

20-28 May 2013


Endangered Languages Week 2013 will present a variety of workshops, talks, films, demonstrations, debate, and more. Events include:

  • ELDP workshop on technology and African languages.
  • APLL6 conference on Austronesian and Papuan Languages and Linguistics
  • Talks and seminars:
    • Caroline Kerfoot: ‘Multilingualism as epistemic resource: rethinking ‘languages’ in educational policy’
    • Kearsey Cormier on Sign languages
    • Henrik Bergqvist:‘The problem of accounting for TAME and related expressions in the context of language documentation and description’
    • Catherine Ingram on music and language documentation
    • Sarah Ogilvie on web technologies and endangered languages
    • Peter Austin: ‘And still they speak Dieri. Language revitalisation in northern South Australia’
  • ELAR Open Day, including:
    • Archive demonstration
    • High school students’ debate on language endangerment (with Language Landscape)
    • Dawes manuscript & digitisation demonstration (with SOAS Library Special Collections)
    • Display of historical recording equipment
    • Tibetan scripts & ELAR collections demonstration
    • ELAR Quiz
  • Film Day: films on/in endangered languages

The full programme of events will appear here soon!

All events are free of charge and open to anyone who is interested in languages.


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