International Mother Language Day – February 21, 2009

The International Mother Language Day has been observed yearly since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. Yesterday at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the 3rd edition of the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger was presented in an online edition and is available free of charge worldwide. It contains information on 2,500 human languages throughout the world that are in danger of becoming extinct. The atlas aims to answer the questions: Why do languages disappear? Which parts of the world are most affected? What can be done to save them?

The film, The Linguists, was also shown yesterday. It’s about two linguists, K. David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, and their attempt to record and document dying languages before it’s too late. They are both directors of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages and Harrison also wrote a book called When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge that I thought was really interesting. It made me feel incredibly sad for the last speakers of languages. Can you imagine how lonely it must feel to know that NO ONE else in the entire world of 6.2 billion people speaks your native language anymore??

And as the title implies, the book is much more than just which languages are dying. It’s about the human knowledge that we are losing with each extinct language. Cultures view the world differently and it’s expressed in their language, from classifying animals and creating calendars to drawing maps and simply counting. Not all human languages use a base 10 system. The French soixante-dix, quatre-vingts, and quatre-vingt-dix, although cumbersome, are much simpler than numbers expressed in languages that use base 6 or body-counting, for example. But if we had never known about these languages and their different ways of thinking, we would never know the limits and potential of human cognition.

Finally, UNESCO also offers a free map of the World’s Languages in Danger (PDF format – 20 MB). France alone includes about a dozen languages that are considered “definitely” and “severely” endangered, such as Breton, Norman, Picard, Lorrain, Burgundian, Auvergnat, Languedocian, Provençal, etc. However, the majority of endangered languages in the world (the “hotspots”) are concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, the American Southwest, central South America, eastern Siberia, and northern Australia.

“Language is the most massive and inclusive art we know, a mountainous and unconscious work of anonymous generations.” – Edward Sapir, Language (1921)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
0saves
If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed.
  • http://www.confituredulait.blogspot.com/ Karina

    sounds like a really interesting movie!
    but i have a question, i’ve always understood that Norman is a dialect (patois)… how do linguistes make the distinction between a language and dialect?
    that’s always been my argument when people tell me that i should stop speaking “americain” that it’s not a separate language! would you say american english is a dialect? i feel (now, didn’t when i first arrived!) like its more than just an accent…

    Karinas last blog post..sand dunes

  • http://www.confituredulait.blogspot.com Karina

    sounds like a really interesting movie!
    but i have a question, i’ve always understood that Norman is a dialect (patois)… how do linguistes make the distinction between a language and dialect?
    that’s always been my argument when people tell me that i should stop speaking “americain” that it’s not a separate language! would you say american english is a dialect? i feel (now, didn’t when i first arrived!) like its more than just an accent…

    Karinas last blog post..sand dunes

  • http://www.esperantolobby.net/ Brian Barker

    Although International Mother Language Day is now over, you may be interested in the contribution, made by the World Esperanto Association, to UNESCO’s campaign for the protection of endangered languages.

    The following declaration was made in favour of Esperanto, by UNESCO at its Paris HQ in December 2008. http://portal.unesco.org/culture/en/ev.php-URL_ID=38420&URL_DO=DO_PRINTPAGE&URL_SECTION=201.html

    The commitment to the campaign to save endangered languages was made, by the World Esperanto Association at the United Nations’ Geneva HQ in September.
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=eR7vD9kChBA&feature=related or http://www.lernu.net

  • http://www.esperantolobby.net Brian Barker

    Although International Mother Language Day is now over, you may be interested in the contribution, made by the World Esperanto Association, to UNESCO’s campaign for the protection of endangered languages.

    The following declaration was made in favour of Esperanto, by UNESCO at its Paris HQ in December 2008. http://portal.unesco.org/culture/en/ev.php-URL_ID=38420&URL_DO=DO_PRINTPAGE&URL_SECTION=201.html

    The commitment to the campaign to save endangered languages was made, by the World Esperanto Association at the United Nations’ Geneva HQ in September.
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=eR7vD9kChBA&feature=related or http://www.lernu.net

  • http://twentyeighthofmay.wordpress.com/ Sally

    Hi Karina,

    Generally, if two forms of speech are ‘mutually intelligible’ they are considered to be dialects (e.g. UK and USA English). Where the two forms are not intelligible then they are considered to be languages (e.g. UK English and French).

    However, politics also plays a role and on occasions, two speech forms that ARE mutually intelligible are considered to be separate languages to keep everyone happy, e.g. Dutch and Flemish or the Scandanvian languages.

    Sallys last blog post..Ekmek var mı?

  • http://twentyeighthofmay.wordpress.com Sally

    Hi Karina,

    Generally, if two forms of speech are ‘mutually intelligible’ they are considered to be dialects (e.g. UK and USA English). Where the two forms are not intelligible then they are considered to be languages (e.g. UK English and French).

    However, politics also plays a role and on occasions, two speech forms that ARE mutually intelligible are considered to be separate languages to keep everyone happy, e.g. Dutch and Flemish or the Scandanvian languages.

    Sallys last blog post..Ekmek var mı?

  • http://twentyeighthofmay.wordpress.com/ Sally

    BTW – Jennie – really interesting post! Thanks for all the great links :-)

    Sallys last blog post..Boring search terms

  • http://twentyeighthofmay.wordpress.com Sally

    BTW – Jennie – really interesting post! Thanks for all the great links :-)

    Sallys last blog post..Boring search terms

  • http://www.lindamathieu.com/ Linda

    Aren’t languages interesting? I can understand the story of the Tower of Babel to explain where they all came from. Apparantly Switzerland has an old language as well that is dying out. Now they all speak Italian, German or French, depending on where they live.

    Lindas last blog post..Rue du Rivoli

  • http://www.lindamathieu.com Linda

    Aren’t languages interesting? I can understand the story of the Tower of Babel to explain where they all came from. Apparantly Switzerland has an old language as well that is dying out. Now they all speak Italian, German or French, depending on where they live.

    Lindas last blog post..Rue du Rivoli

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

Support ielanguages.com

The 2nd edition of French Language Tutorial is available as a PDF book. It has been updated with much more vocabulary, sample sentences, and cultural information, plus extended vocabulary lists, cross-referenced topics, and an alphabetical index.

Visit the Store to buy the PDF e-book for $14.95 or paperback book for $29.95.