In the news recently was the story of the two remaining speakers of Ayapaneco, who do not talk to each other.
A little closer to home the remaining speaker of Nuchatlaht, an indigenous language of Canada, remains enthusiastic about speaking the language. Alban Michael is 84 years old and has been speaking Nuchatlaht since he was a child – it was his mother’s only language. Living in a remote part of north Vancouver Island, there is little opportunity for Mr Michael to speak his native language, although a friend from a nearby Mowachaht band has a dialect that is close enough for them to be able to converse.
Work is being done to preserve these native languages, including an immersion programme that teams an ‘apprentice’ with a fluent speaker – this seems to be getting results.
The roughly 30,000 aboriginal people of Vancouver Island mostly came from two linguistic families, Wakashan and Salishan, further divided into six languages (there is argument over that number, since it’s not always clear where a dialect ends and a language begins).
Some overlap in the manner of Swedish and Norwegian, while some have been described as different as Russian and Congolese.
Only a few hundred of those 30,000 natives still speak the old languages fluently. The First Peoples’ Council gave this snapshot:
- A total of 115 people are fluent in the dozen dialects (including Alban’s Nuchatlaht) of Nuu-chah-nulth on the north and west Island.
- Just a dozen speakers of Ditidaht (also known as Nitinat) remain.
- Kwak’wala, the language of the Kwakwaka’wakw, who live along the inner coast and islands north of the Comox Valley, has 148 fluent speakers.
- The Salishan languages are found from Sooke, through Victoria and Duncan and up to the Comox Valley: ? Thirty remain fluent in Comox-Sliammon.
- 278 are comfortable in the dialects of Hul’q'umi’num’, found from Cowichan Bay to Nanoose.
- About 60 speak the Sencoten language of the Saanich Peninsula. The associated tongues of T’souke, Lekwungen, Semiahmoo, which were spoken from Sooke through Victoria are listed as “sleeping.”
One of the most frequently heard reasons for not learning a new language is “I haven’t got the time”.
That’s something I’ve been saying recently, as the combination of work, work-related activities, personal life and keeping up with family and friends has left me with little free time. But then I started thinking about how I use my time and realised that I can fit in language learning after all.
For example, many of us commute to and from work. My commute can take anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour, depending on traffic. I used to spend this time on a bus doing nothing. Then I noticed a man on the bus studying a notebook that had Arabic writing next to English words. I realised he was revising vocabulary on his commute, and thought I could do the same.
So, the next day I started listening to a Spanish podcast on my MP3 player. The podcast is around 20 minutes long, so I can easily fit it in during my bus ride, and get to work a little bit smarter!
It’s not just on your commute that you can study though – how about while you’re at the gym? Or during your lunch break? You could even put on a podcast while you’re doing the washing up!
Do you have any tips for using your language-learning time more effectively?
An interesting interview from the Huffington Post today with Dr. David Harrison, director of research for the non-profit Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages and author of “The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages”.
Harrison believes that technology, particularly video technology, is going to be a great help in saving endangered languages. He also doesn’t think that it’s inevitable that languages will die out. Here’s an extract from the interview:
Nataly Kelly: Do you believe that technology can help prevent language loss?
David Harrison: What prevents language loss are attitudes and actions on the part of people. Technologies can be leveraged and deployed to meet that goal. I have seen many useful examples ranging from people putting up Facebook or other social networking postings in endangered languages to texting them or emailing them. I’ve just created a YouTube channel that is devoted exclusively to recordings of endangered languages. I’ve also created a number of talking dictionaries which have put several languages on the internet for the very first time.
Technology allows a small language that may have been very local and may have been only spoken, not written down and used only by a small number of speakers in a single, remote location to suddenly gain a global audience and expand beyond its current confines and eventually, to sustain itself.
In good news for Native American languages, Google has made Cherokee a “searchable” language.
Although Google won’t translate Cherokee websites into English or English websites into Cherokee, content written in Cherokee can now be found using the search engine. An on-screen keyboard will allow characters to be typed in the Cherokee alphabet, known as the “syllabary”. The development comes after Google spent over a year working with translators from the Cherokee Nation.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith hailed it as a major victory in the tribe’s battle to preserve its ancient language.
“Language is like a muscle. It has to be exercised in order to stay healthy and grow stronger,” Smith told the Tulsa World.
“This is one more tool for people, especially young people, to exercise their language.”
“No one really knows how much content is out there because it’s never been searchable before,” he said.
“This will make what is already there more accessible, and at the same time, it will be an incentive to create more Cherokee content.” (Source: Tulsa World)
How time flies… this is my 100th post for the Listen & Learn blog!
The very first post was back on the 4th April 2010, welcoming everyone to the “all-new, super-shiny” blog. That means I missed the first “blogoversary” of the blog earlier this month, but I suppose it would be overkill to celebrate twice in the space of a couple of weeks!
My last post was about the viral video of the twin baby boys having a ‘conversation’.
Someone then sent me a link to this blog post from the Children’s Hospital Boston where the Speech-Language Pathology Services co-ordinator, Hope Dickinson MS, CCC-SLP explains what’s really going on.
Here’s a short extract from the post:
As a speech pathologist, what do you take away from this video?
It’s fun because these two are demonstrating great mimicking of multiple aspects of conversation. It really demonstrates how very young children communicate and know how a conversation works, even before they have the words to use. They will eventually begin to replace the babbling strings with words. If you listen closely, you’ll even hear a couple of words: One says “mama” when looking at the camera, and one or both say “up” more than once when picking up a foot.
One thing they are using wonderfully is turn taking, as in first one “talks” and then pauses and the other responds. They are also imitating the various intonations we use in conversation and speaking. There is fantastic rise and fall to their pitch and tones. Sentences or exclamations end loudly and emphatically, and there is also some questioning (rising) intonation. They are using gestures to supplement their talking, much like adults do. Their body distance is even very appropriate for most Americans; not too close, but not too far either.
Clever people are often said to have a ‘big’ brain – but one brain is surely no bigger than another.
A study from the University of Hong Kong has shown that you can add grey matter however – through ‘child-like’ learning. The research participants were shown different coloured cards, each of which was given a made-up name. They were asked to memorise these new names, and told they would be tested at a later date.
The participants were given MRI scans after three days of this ‘conditioning’ (five sessions totalling around two hours each) and the scans showed that new grey matter had formed in the left hemisphere of the brains. Language functions are normally found in the left hemisphere of the brain.
The key to the brain growth appears to be the change in perception, because the colours were given new names and the subjects learnt to associate those new names with the colours — as opposed to them simply learning a list of names, for example. This is supported by the fact that the areas of the brain responsible for processing colour, vision and perceptions were the ones that grew.
I wonder if this also applies to learning new languages?