PRESERVING LOST LANGUAGES
Reader's Digest UK|August 2020
When a language dies, a culture goes extinct with it. And while the death of a language can occur naturally, it may also be caused by cultural imposition, prohibition, criminalisation and even pure neglect
Raphael Garcia

Every two weeks, a language dies. Of the 7,000 languages spoken today, around 40 per cent are in danger of extinction in the years to come. In a sometimes desperate race to save these languages, activists from around the world are organising in various ways, often using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to preserve—as well as teach—minority languages to the younger generation.

From activists with the agenda of preservation, to simple people singing and speaking in their own language, they rely on social media to go viral and connect with their target audience. Even if some of these languages vanish, the internet will keep them alive for future generations to at least know that they existed and experience the way they once sounded.

“Speaking a minority language makes me feel proud. I know the root words which can't be translated exactly into other languages,” says Sanjib Chaudhary, a social activist from Nepal who works with indigenous development.

Apps such as Duolingo (which offers lessons in languages such as Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Hawaiian and Navajo) or Tusaalanga (which teaches Inuktitut) are of great help for speakers of minority languages. YouTube channels dedicated to preserving and teaching minority languages, are also part of a global effort to prevent a mass language extinction in the following years and decades.

Throughout 2019, a rotating roster of indigenous digital activists from Latin America, Asia and Africa took control of the @ActLenguas, @DigiAfricanLang and @AsiaLangsOnline Twitter accounts in an effort to provide a space for diverse voices from across the region to tell stories of their experiences with language revitalisation. To support this effort, the UN announced the International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032, where activities will be planned, globally in support of minority languages and communities.

It's a tough fight against external and even internal enemies. There are those who see no point in passing on useless languages that will not help their children and grandchildren to get good jobs. Some young people see no value in the languages of their ancestors in a world where English is the lingua franca.

On the other hand, there are many young people who seek to keep their languages alive. They either come from families of activists or simply have a genuine interest in their own culture. That’s the case for Sanjib Chaudhary. He’s a native Eastern Tharu speaker, a language which is spoken exclusively in southern Nepal by about 1.6 million people.

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