Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thousands of languages becoming extinct soon...



With thousands of languages becoming extinct, the message from experts is, use it or lose it

Imagine if the language you speak everyday became extinct.

It’s impossible for most of us to even begin to comprehend.

But it’s something thousands of international communities will have to face up to this century.

Language experts estimate as many as half the world’s languages are endangered and by the year 2050 will be extinct.

They say the major reason for language loss is because communities are switching to larger politically and economically more powerful languages like English, Spanish and Mandarin.

In the UAE, with the influx of expat workers and the switch to a more western lifestyle, it’s a sad fact that Arabic is becoming less and less widely spoken. In fact the chosen language of business in this Arabic country is English.

Rami, a Palestinian who lives in Dubai says nowadays he speaks English more than Arabic.

“I speak Arabic with my parents the most but I don’t see them often and with Arabic friends my age, I tend to talk more in English.

“We jump from Arabic to English lots of times while we’re talking. I don’t know why. It’s just how things are now. Maybe it’s the fashion or influences from popular American culture,” he says.


But Doctor Rahman Haleem, an Arabic language teacher from Zayed University and the university’s Associate Director Institute for Community Engagement, believes Arabic will never become extinct.

“The Quran is Arabic and it will never change. It’s carried the language for the last 1,400 years and will carry it for a long long time to come,” he says.

“But the usage of the Arabic language has become less fashionable, that’s what we’re seeing now. People are finding it easier to talk to each other in English or mimic what they see on television.

“That is a genuine risk for the popularity of speaking the language but the language itself will never die.”

Doctor Haleem says it’s essential Arabs continue speaking their mother tongue.

“It’s important because it’s the language of the Quran and since the vast majority of Arabs are Muslim they can’t really read the Quran in any another language than Arabic and enjoy it as much.”

While Doctor Haleem may be positive that the Arabic language will never die thanks to the Quran, Sinead May from Ireland fears that her native language, Gaelic, won’t be so lucky.

“Gaelic is dying as a spoken language in Ireland. There are still people who speak it fluently but they are in the minority,” she says.

“In school, we learn some Gaelic, but very few people continue to learn the language, so they quickly forget what they learnt in school. “It’s a real shame, because it’s a beautiful language, with a deep history linked to music, poetry and literature. English is more useful to us as an international language, but it’s sad more people don’t speak our native language too.”

Doctor Haleem says people should try their best to continue speaking the language of their country or community.

He adds: “It’s your identity, it’s your language and heritage. Without it, who are you?”

eve.dugdale@7days.ae

Dying to be spoken
Peter K Austin is a linguistic expert and author of 11 books on minority communities and endangered languages. Here’s his list of the ten most endangered languages in the world:

* Jeru (or Great Andamanese) - Spoken by fewer than 20 people on the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean.

* N|u (also called Khomani) - This is a Khoisan language spoken by fewer than ten elderly people whose traditional lands are located in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa.

* Ainu - The Ainu language is spoken by a small number of old people on the island of Hokkaido in the far north of Japan.

* Thao - Sun Moon Lake of central Taiwan is the home of the Thao language, now spoken by a handful of old people while the remainder of the community speaks Taiwanese Chinese (Minnan).

* Yuchi - Spoken in Oklahoma, USA, by just five people all aged over 75.

* ORO WIN - The Oro Win live in western Rondonia State in Brazil and were first contacted by outsiders in 1963. The group was almost exterminated after two attacks by outsiders and today the community consists of just 50 people, only five of whom still speak the language.

* Kusunda - The Kusunda are a former group of hunter-gatherers from western Nepal who have intermarried with their settled neighbours. It was thought that the language was extinct but in 2004 scholars at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu located eight people who still speak the language.

* Ter Sami - Spoken by just ten elderly people located on the Kola Peninsula in Russia.

* Guugu Yimidhirr - an Australian Aboriginal language spoken at Hopevale near Cooktown in northern Queensland by around 200 people.

* Ket - The last surviving member of a family of languages spoken along the Yenesei River in eastern Siberia. Today there are around 600 speakers but no children are learning it since parents prefer to speak to them in Russian.

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