Language hotspots

The Enduring Voices Project, which I came across today on the National Geographic website, has the aims of documenting endangered languages and preventing language extinction by identifying the most crucial areas where languages are endangered and embarking on expeditions to:

Understand the geographic dimensions of language distribution
Determine how linguistic diversity is linked to biodiversity
Bring wide attention to the issue of language loss

There’s a map on the site which shows the areas of the world with a particular high density of endangered languages, and also provides information about the languages and a few recordings. The ‘hotspots’ on the map are colour coded to give an idea of the severity of the problems. The areas with the most endangered languages are northern Australia, eastern and central Siberia, central South America, and the northwest Pacific plateau of North America.

Here are a few random factoids from the site:

The Yukaghir people (Siberia, 30-150 speakers) traditionally measured time with a unit called ‘the kettle boiled,’ about an hour long. A longer interval was called ‘the frozen kettle boiled,’ which took about 90 minutes.

Tuvan (200,000 speakers) has a word that means ‘the two wives of my two brothers.’ If you had three brothers, or one of your two brothers was unmarried, you would never use this word.

A noun in Tabassaran (95,000 speakers, Dagestan (Russia)) may have up to 53 distinct forms, using suffixes that describe the location and movement of objects in relation to that noun.

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This entry was posted in Endangered languages, Language, Language revival.

8 Responses to Language hotspots

  1. Daniel says:

    I love how exotic languages have such specific terms (the wives of my two brothers) and such interpretive terms (the kettle boiled). There is some Jamsay language I think that has a distance measurement based on “long runs” and “short runs.” Can anyone think of a modern, widely spoken language that uses such description or abstract idea to measure time/distances?

  2. Yitzhakofeir says:

    The Yukaghir people (Siberia, 30-150 speakers) traditionally measured time with a unit called ‘the kettle boiled,’ about an hour long. A longer interval was called ‘the frozen kettle boiled,’ which took about 90 minutes.

    That reminds me of how I measure short bits of time. Like I may say something like, I’ll do that in two cigarettes (aprox. 14 minutes, 1 cig = 7 mins.).

  3. goofy says:

    Daniel, yes I can think of a widely spoken language that uses such description or abstract idea to measure time/distances: English.
    When hell freezes over
    a hair’s breadth
    time flies
    as the crow flies

    “minute” and “second” come from Latin words meaning “small”.

  4. Daydreamer says:

    If you are as fascinated as I am by those hopeful attempts to save dying languages, you should give these links a try, too:

    http://www.mpi.nl/DOBES/ (documentation of endangered languages)

    http://www.uni-koeln.de/gbs/ (Society for Endangered Languages).

  5. Peter Austin says:

    The hype surrounding the media splash by the so-called “Living Tongues Institute” fails to mention that there are several other groups around the world who are doing work of this kind, and who have been doing so for some years. Have a look at http://www.hrelp.org or http://www.mpi.nl/dobes or http://www.neh.gov/grants/guidelines/del.html. At these websites you will see descriptions of hundreds of projects quietly doing similar work, many of them in much closer collaboration with communities and with much more focus on language revitalisation and support than the people you report on.

  6. Aeetlrcreejl says:

    I like the word döngür.

  7. Colm Doyle says:

    Great site! Thanks for the link! :-)