How does language influence culture and identity?


One language dies every 14 days. By the next century nearly half of the ~7,000 languages spoken on Earth will likely disappear. But what is lost when a language falls silent?

People and nature blur in the world’s indigenous languages: The perspective that nature and culture are not just interlinked, but that they are inseparable, is shared amongst many native and indigenous worldviews. For indigenous groups, it is often difficult to talk about issues related to nature outside of the context of their people, which is reflected by the way these concepts are translated into language, songs and creation stories: “Nature and people are not two separate things, they are the same: nature is people and people are nature.”

Indigenous dictionary project aims to keep endangered languages alive: A project in development by the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation aims to revolutionise the teaching and learning of literacy in indigenous communities across Australia. The ALNF’s Living First Language Project aims to revitalise and preserve endangered indigenous languages, while simultaneously teaching literacy in English and first languages.

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited Whitehorse in the Yukon, Canada to hear children singing Southern Tutchone, an aboriginal language with fewer than 50 fluent speakers left: “We’re at a critical stage with our language with only a few fluent speakers left, so it’s been exciting to have them singing nursery rhymes,” said Erin Pauls, who runs the Dusk’a Head Start programme.

Grant funds expansion of 3-year language revitalization program — and ‘a whole different worldview’: The Sealaska Heritage Institute has received a roughly $930,000 federal grant from the Administration for Native Americans to establish a three-year language revitalization program.

Humans may speak a universal language, say scientists: Research which looked into several thousand languages showed that for basic concepts, such as body parts, family relationships or aspects of the natural world, there are common sounds – as if concepts that are important to the human experience somehow trigger universal verbalisations.

The ancient Viking language of Elfdalian has been almost entirely wiped out, with only 2,500 people in a tiny forest community in Sweden currently keeping it alive: Now people are fighting to revive the historic tongue by bringing it back to schools before it vanishes completely.

Slam poet Bob Holman tracks endangered languages in new film: “Every language contains a singular way of looking at the world. The brain may be infinite, but we’ve only been able to invent 6,000 of these ways of looking at things. To lose one of these is a tragedy.”

Saving a language that predates Spanish and English: Students at Eureka High School and Weitchpec Elementary School in Weitchpec, California, are learning the Yurok language. Weitchpec is home to the Yurok Indian Reservation.

“(Speaking another language) gives me a sense of pride and connection to my heritage. I honestly believe the fact that I can speak another language with my family brings us closer together. It reminds us where we’ve come from and how far we’ve come.” – Bryant, Chicago, English & Korean

10 languages you’ve never heard of: Amid the throngs of dominant state and global languages can be found the remnants of cultures that might be all but unknown; their people and ways of life forgotten, reviled or assimilated into mainstream society.

The world’s languages, in 7 maps and charts: These seven maps and charts, visualised by The Washington Post, will help you understand how diverse other parts of the world are in terms of languages.

Only a fraction of Europe’s languages are officially listed as the languages of the European Union: some are on the brink of extinction, from northern French dialects spoken by just 100,000 speakers to indigenous Scandinavian tongues with only a handful of speakers… Europe’s incredible linguistic diversity is slowly dwindling.

Crowdsourcing subtitles for endangered languages: Viki, a popular video streaming site with primetime TV shows and movies from around the world, are asking their viewers to write or “crowdsource” the subtitles for the shows they watch.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge in England that global economic success and growth are responsible for extinction of languages: They reported that with development of the economies, one language usually dominates a nation’s political and educational sphere, and people are forced to adopt that dominant language otherwise they will be at a risk of being left out economically and politically.

“People without knowledge of their history, culture and origins, are like a tree without roots… No matter where you are going you have to get a sense of where you’re coming from” Kaurna educator Stephen Goldsmith on reviving the Kaurna language after 150 years

Mother Tongue: Sharing Australia’s first languages: Mother Tongue invites Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to share their knowledge with others.

The extinct Manx language, from the Isle of Man, is making a miraculous comeback: Its future is now in the hands of the island’s school children…

Mundolingua: museum of languages and linguistics opens in Paris: deep in the heart of Paris’ Latin Quarter, a small museum of languages and linguistics has opened its doors, featuring displays and interactive exhibits on the history and development of language, from the cultural mythologies about the origin of languages through to Enigma machines, Google translations, puzzles and more. The museum has a life-sized replica of the Rosetta Stone, made by the British Muesum, and its own micro-cinema, with a selection of films and documentaries from around the world.

World of Gaelic: Geographic distribution of the Gaelic languages.

Gaels around the world are encouraged to link up through an exciting multimedia project that celebrates and explores identity, language and culture – and you don’t have to speak Gaelic to get involved.

The Endangered Osage Language Gets a Unicode-Friendly Alphabet: Many of the more than 500 Native American languages that still exist in some form—since most pre-colonial languages weren’t written down, it’s impossible to know precisely how many there were before Europeans turned up in the New World.

Dozens of local languages in Nigeria are under threat because of neglect and outside influences: Of Nigeria’s 529 official languages, 62 are “in trouble” or “dying”, the Lagos-based Guardian newspaper reports. Up to 200 Nigerian languages may be at risk in the future, the paper says.

Online encyclopedia will help preserve Noongar language: One of Australia’s biggest Aboriginal language groups, Noongar (spoken in Western Australia’s south-west) is set to be preserved with the creation of an Aboriginal online encyclopaedia.

When the world loses a language: “Loss of a language means loss of a conceptual system, a product of the human mind, which can never be recovered”.

Mamihlapinatapai means “a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to initiate”: It comes from the Yaghan language, which is used by the natives of Tierra del Fuego, or, to be more accurate, one native of Tierra del Fuego, as there is only one speaker of the language still alive.

38 wonderful foreign words we could use in English: Sometimes we must turn to other languages to find le mot juste. Here are a whole bunch of foreign words with no direct English equivalent.

What do we lose when we leave behind our mother tongues? Suzanne Talhouk makes an impassioned case to love your own language, and to cherish what it can express that no other language can.

Last Monolingual Language Chickasaw Speaker Dies at 93: Emily Johnson Dickerson, a full blood Chickasaw who spoke only the Chickasaw language her entire life, died at her Ada home on Monday, December 30, 2013.

Nelson Mandela’s first language was Xhosa, and his second English but he was also proficient in Afrikaans and Zulu: This multilingualism informed his political philosophy as he would draw on moral reference points from the UN Declaration of Human Rights to the indigenous ethic of “Ubuntu”, what he called, “that profound African sense that we are human only through the humanity of other human beings”.

From Afrikaans to Zulu, South Africa’s languages have stories to tell: Government recognition of 11 languages reflects Nelson Mandela’s vision of an inclusive rainbow nation.

Traditional hand signs in Australia: “These are some of the hand signs that we use today and that we used many years in the past and that we still use today” Clifton Bieundurry, Walmajarri artist from the central
Kimberley, Australia.

Huh? Scientists find a version in each of 10 languages studied: Researchers visited native speakers of 10 very different languages on five continents, and discovered remarkably similar-sounding words that serve the same essential purpose: mending a broken conversation.

Disappearing languages around the world, empowering bilingual youngsters to share stories, literature and songs from their home language and culture, and top ten tips for celebrating students’ home languages: in the September 2013 issue of our magazine, Languages Today, only available to members of ALL! Join now for your copy.

What happens when a language has no numbers? Among the Pirahã language’s many peculiarities is an almost complete lack of numeracy, an extremely rare linguistic trait of which there are only a few documented cases.

Thousands of people have downloaded a new app for smart phones and tablets, designed to boost the Manx language: the free application, which includes 10 chapters of learning activities, has been accessed by more than 4,000 users since its launch last year.

Language structure partly determined by social structure: Language structures are subjected to different evolutionary pressures in different social environments. Just as biological organisms are shaped by ecological niches, language structures appear to adapt to the environment (niche) in which they are being learned and used.

Lost in Translation: Saving Europe’s Endangered Languages: “Linguistic diversity is the soul of the European construction. There are hundreds of languages in the European Union and each is a part of the European identity” French MEP François Alfonsi.

11 untranslatable words from other cultures: feelings and ideas that other languages cannot identify…

Slincraze is a rap group from Maze, in northern Norway: They rap in Sami, a language spoken by less than 20,000 people, to save their language and culture and to fight stereotypes about the people of the region.

Many African children face a hard struggle with the effects of lingual confusion: Which language should African children be taught in?

Multilingual Education in Africa: Lessons from the Juba Language-in-Education Conference.

People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI), the first survey of living Indian languages as people perceive them: Survey reveals 780 languages in stark contrast to the 2001 Census figure of 122 languages, following a 40-year policy of omitting languages with less than 10,000 speakers.

10 languages in Karnataka endangered: Of the 50 languages spoken in Karnataka, eight are potentially endangered and two critical endangered, according to a recent survey.

Ganesh Devy: Each language is a unique world view: a linguist who led a path-breaking survey of living languages in India explains importance of diversity.

Languages are not only tools of communication, they also reflect a view of the world. Languages are vehicles of value systems and cultural expressions and are an essential component of the living heritage of humanity. Yet, according to Unesco, some 3,000 languages are endangered worldwide.

A Brisbane school has started teaching a local Aboriginal language, in a bid to engage Indigenous students and close the gap in education: Waterford West State School in Logan, which recently won the Education category of the Premier’s Reconciliation Awards, has started teaching its students Yugambeh, a local Aboriginal language. The school, which has 640 students of whom 80 are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, is hoping that including the language in its curriculum will help close the gap in education and encourage Aboriginal students and their families.

Treasure trove of Indigenous language documents unearthed at New South Wales State Library: A treasure trove of Indigenous language documents from across Australia has been discovered in the New South Wales State Library.

Language structures are subjected to different evolutionary pressures in different social environments: Just as biological organisms are shaped by ecological niches, language structures appear to adapt to the environment (niche) in which they are being learned and used.

Switzerland’s fourth language under pressure: Romansh, spoken in the south-eastern canton of Graubünden, is descended from Latin, the common parent of all the Romance languages – but as the number of speakers is diluted by incomers to the region where it is spoken, it is an ongoing struggle to preserve it.

Schools to test language project to promote multilingualism: African languages, including Afrikaans, will be rolled out in some of South Africa’s public schools next year as part of the Department of Basic Education’s pilot project to promote multilingualism.

Preserving endangered languages: The Rosetta Project is creating an online archive and parallel texts on an optical disc – a kind of Rosetta Stone for linguists in the future.

The tragedy of dying languages: As 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.

‘Language is really the essence of our culture, and without it, we don’t really exist’: Annelia Hillman on why keeping the Yurok language alive is so important.

‘Mixed’ Language Discovered in Northern Australia: “In Light Warlpiri, you have one part of the language that mostly comes from English and Kriol, but the other grammatical part, the suffixing, comes from Warlpiri,” said Carmel O’Shannessy, linguistics professor at the University of Michigan.

Welsh Twitter: capturing language change in real time: A database of Welsh tweets is being used to identify the characteristics of an evolving language.

The last native speaker of the ancient Baltic language of Livonian has died aged 103: Grizelda Kristina, who fled Latvia with her husband to escape the war in 1944, died in Canada after spending her last years helping to document a language that modern-day Latvians cannot understand.

German dialect in Texas is one of a kind, and dying out: The first German settlers arrived in Texas over 150 years ago and successfully passed on their native language throughout the generations – until now.

Archaeologists will gain a powerful new tool in their quest to recover ancestral, disappeared languages: Connecting machine learning algorithms with Big Data in this field proved successful and will automate a process that until now took decades.

Composer aspires to save disappearing language: ‘Tan Dun’s classical compositions blended with multi-media performances are wowing audiences the world over and now he’s embarked on a special project to save a disappearing language in his home province of Hunan.’

Silent plains… the fading sounds of native languages: “It is expected that by 2100 nearly half of today’s living tongues will have disappeared. If so, humanity will be considerably poorer. For each time a native language dies out, it is a distinct universe of mental constructs, with unique ecological wisdom acquired through millennia of direct contact with nature, which is lost.”

Push to preserve the Tibetan language in China: Language rights have become a particular focus for Tibetan efforts to reassert national identity in recent years, with Chinese authorities frequently closing language classes taught outside the state-controlled education system and Tibetan students protesting against the use of textbooks written in Chinese.

Concern as Leighton Andrews rejects Welsh language plan: ‘Campaigners have accused the Welsh government of caving in to pressure over a set of rules which would require services to be available in Welsh.’

More supporters not laws’ call for Welsh language campaign: John Walter Jones, chief executive of the Welsh Language Board until 2003, said campaigners need more supporters like sports personalities George North and Becky James to encourage use of the language rather than laws.

Half of the India’s 1,600 languages yet to be traced: “Concluding his ambitious marathon Peoples’ Linguistic Survey of India,(PLSI) which took four years of field work preceded by nearly 15 years of conceptualization and planning, Prof Ganesh Devy, the Sahitya Akademi award winner, literary critic and founder of the Tribal Academy at Tejgarh declares that out of 1,600-odd languages listed in the 1961 survey of India, they have been able to trace not more than 850 languages during their survey. The survey was initiated by Vadodara-based Bhasha Research and Publication Centre founded by Prof Devy.”

International Mother Language Day (21st February): International Mother Language Day has been celebrated every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism (UNESCO)

Language treasures: The idea of the ‘language treasures’ database is to compile a list of words from different languages which no translation can do justice to.

Love words that have no English translation: “Last year, the Oxford Dictionary Online added a bunch of popular words including lolz, ridic and vajazzle, but there are still some feelings and experiences no English word can quite describe.”

Zambia grapples with language challenge: “Almost 50 years after independence from Britain, English is still Zambia’s main official language. But the government has now promised an overhaul, giving more priority to local languages”

New dictionary preserves fading Mien language and culture: “Herbert Purnell, an American missionary and linguist, spoke of his 26-year journey to compile the comprehensive Mien-English dictionary, an 855-page compendium of more than 5,600 words, 28,000 phrases and 2,100 cultural notes laced with myths, poetry and ceremonies.”

Zimbabwe: mother languages and identity: An interesting opinion piece from Zimbabwe, proposing various questions on language and identity such as “do Zimbabweans look down on their mother languages?” If that is the case, can we then say that we are facing an identity crisis?”

Could the birth of a word prevent the death of a language?: “The loss of a language typically signifies the loss of human knowledge. The knowledge within a given linguistic or culture group is far more important than the language itself, but this too is typically lost when a language dies.”

‘It’s like a secret language’: school that teaches in Manx: A video clip of the only school in the world that teaches Manx.

Manx: bringing a language back from the dead: Road signs, radio shows, mobile phone apps, novels – take a drive around the Isle of Man today and the local language is prominent. But just 50 years ago Manx seemed to be on the point of extinction.

Mexican constitution to be translated into indigenous languages: The authorities believe the translation will help the country’s indigenous population to better integrate into the country’s economic and social life, develop their mother tongues and give them a bigger role in the life of their country.

Welsh language rally marks 50 years since Trefechan bridge protest: Welsh language campaigners have staged a rally in Aberystwyth to mark 50 years since their group tried to bring the town to a standstill with its first protest.

Saudi Gazette: “Teach us English but without its cultural values”:The view of those who call for not incorporating cultural elements in the teaching of English is that teaching cultural values is a form of cultural invasion or, more accurately, a form of linguistic globalization that emanates from cultural globalization. These individuals feel that teaching Western values to Saudi students will result in eroding their identity.

Rich language, poor speakers: stigmas of speaking dialect in city: “A study showed that dialect speakers were regarded as provincial, old-fashioned, senile, uneducated, narrow-minded. At the same time, we noticed a certain prestige attached to one’s own place – the students more often thought that a person who spoke their own dialect was interesting, honest, warm, cheerful.”

Tongue-tied? Perspectives on English as the international language of science: suspect that the desire to maintain theses in Hebrew stems in part from a “language inferiority complex”; since modern Hebrew is a relatively new language, developed for modern use and spoken only in the last century, the miracle of its existence is still fresh.

The proscription of Gaelic has a long, tragic and bloody history: Letters to the editor (The Herald, Scotland) reflecting on the history of the Gaelic language and the poor efforts made by the Scottish government to preserve it’s heritage.

France purges the hashtag from the language: Concerned about the continued watering-down of France’s proud linguistic tradition, the French Commission Générale de Terminologie et de Néologie decided to ban the humble “hashtag” and replace it with a new term: mot-dièses, which translates into “sharp word”.

Scientists strive to save dying Aramaic language: “British scientists are attempting to preserve the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus and tied to Hebrew and Arabic. Professor of linguistics at the University of Cambridge, Geoffrey Khan, has begun a quest to record the ancient language that’s been around for three thousand years before it finally disappears.”

The Jewish language and Yiddish: Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament and of the State of Israel, is the most widely spoken Jewish language today. However, because the Jewish people have been scattered around the world for thousands of years, Jews in different countries developed their own languages so they could communicate with each other.

Teaching in multicultural classrooms: tips, challenges and opportunities: “The range of nationalities in my room is an asset. The differing use of language is something we study and examine, their differing cultural perspectives provide a dynamic and vivid forum for debate and the need for mutual respect adds to the general dignity of the environment. The cultural diversity of my classes also creates an imperative not to make assumptions about religion, culture and values that creates room for many other firms of difference.”

UNESCO – Mother Tongue Multilingual Education: “UNESCO is developing a number of initiatives for the promotion of mother tongue instruction and bilingual or multilingual education to enhance quality education.”

UNESCO – Biodiversity and linguistic diversity: “Local and indigenous communities have elaborated complex classification systems for the natural world, reflecting a deep understanding of their local environment. This environmental knowledge is embedded in indigenous names, oral traditions and taxonomies, and can be lost when a community shifts to another language.”

UNESCO have many interesting studies and projects on their Endangered Languages site, including an atlas of the world’s languages in danger.

Mind your (minority) language: Welsh, Gaelic, Irish and Cornish are staging a comeback: Thanks to impassioned campaigners, Welsh is in fine fettle, and other minority languages are also on the up, as Holly Williams discovers.

Iranian Kurdistan: Restriction On Use Of Minority Languages: The Iranian government has once again restricted the use of minority languages in the country. Kurdish teachers have been told to refrain from using any other language than Persian at the schools.

The universal language of lullabies: Four millennia ago an ancient Babylonian wrote down a lullaby sung by a mother to her child. It may have got the baby to sleep, but its message is far from soothing – and this remains a feature of many lullabies sung around the world today.

Lost indigenous language revived in Australia: “To restore this ancient tongue, researchers trawled through historical archives produced by religious groups and colonial officials to bring it back from the dead… Within 18 months of their arrival in South Australia in 1838, the missionaries had produced a definitive vocabulary of about 2,000 Kaurna words, around 200 translated sentences and key elements of grammar.”

Fighting to save the Welsh language: “Children are still taught Welsh in schools but few use it socially in adulthood. However, some proud Welsh speakers are doing their best to keep their language alive”

David Crystal on vanishing languages: “When the last speakers go. they take with them their history and culture”

David Crystal on minority languages: Professor David Crystal talks about the revival of the Welsh language and how minority languages might be protected.

Why have humans evolved to speak so many languages?: Evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel gives a talk on Evolution and Humanity at the Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival.

Languages evolved to prevent us communicating, writes Professor Pagel: “between 30 and 50 languages are being lost every year as the inhabitants of small tribal societies adopt majority languages. It is inevitable that eventually there will be one single language.”

National Geographic: Vanishing Voices: “One language dies every 14 days. By the next century nearly half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will likely disappear, as communities abandon native tongues in favor of English, Mandarin, or Spanish. What is lost when a language goes silent?”

National Geographic: Enduring Voices Mission Project: “National Geographic’s Enduring Voices Project strives to preserve endangered languages by identifying language hotspots—the places on our planet with the most unique, poorly understood, or threatened indigenous languages—and documenting the languages and cultures within them.”

Balinese will fight for their language: “Following the Education and Culture Ministry’s plan to revise the 2013 education curriculum, which includes a move to immerse local language lessons into art and culture lessons, the Balinese people have pledged to keep Balinese language lessons in school and say no to the plan.”

Tibetan language classes closed in Asia:  “Authorities in China’s Sichuan province have banned Tibetan language and culture classes taught informally by volunteers to Tibetan students during their winter break, angering local residents who had sought to promote Tibetan national and cultural identity to their children.”

Fado: the flourishing of a unique art: “Fado is not only a form of artistic expression but also increasingly a stepping stone for Portugal’s economic development. PDV explores its promotion since the UNESCO declaration and the influence the country’s economic downfall could have on the art form. When culture is important, it inspires confidence and creativity in people, the chief of the Intangible Heritage department of UNESCO tells PDV.”

Language: The Cultural Tool by Daniel Everett (Review):  “The exceptional language of the Pirahã people seems to be a unique cultural tool – like their knowledge of plant toxins, and their ability to fish with a bow and arrow – adapted for their exceptional circumstances. It is just another finely honed instrument from the human cognitive toolbox… We can speak, and so language has evolved, just as our brains and bipedal locomotion have evolved.”

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