Tlingit revitalisation

I came across an interesting article today about efforts to revitalise Tlingit in Alaska. It mentions how some Tlingit speakers are unwilling to speak their language to their children and grandchildren because they were punished for speaking it when were at school. This resulted in feelings of shame for the Tlingit language and culture which have left deep psychological scars which need to be addressed. The piece suggests that talking about these experiences and feelings can help to overcome them. Many language revitalisation efforts face similar problems.

Another article I found talks about the setting up of a language revitalisation program in Alsaka that was recently launched. A comment on the article suggests that the best way to revitalise a language is for parents and elders to speak to children in their native language while doing every day activities. This is true, however the parents and elders aren’t always willing to do this for the reasons mentioned in the first article.


I came across an interesting article today about the Wiradjuri language and how it is being revived. In 1981 only three people spoke Wiradjuri and by 2009 no native speakers remained, however since 1988 the language has been revived, thanks particularly to the efforts of Stan Grant Senior, a Wiradjuri elder, who worked with a linguist called Dr John Rudder to produce a Waridjuri dictionary, which was published in 2005.

Currently 10% of the people in the towns of Parkes and Forbes in New South Wales speak Wiradjuri, and increasing numbers are learning it. It is taught in schools and colleges in these town at all levels to children and young people from all backgrounds.

Attitudes to the Waridjuri people, culture and language have been transformed not just among the children, but also among their parents and others in these towns. No longer do the Aboringial children sit at the back of classes being ignored and/or taunted by the other children, no longer are they ashamed of their language. Instead they have developed a strong sense of identity and self-respect, and are doing well in school. Non-Aboriginal children are also learning and enthusiastic about the Waridjuri language and culture.

It’s great to hear about successful language revival like this that has community support and which is helping to bring a community together.

Aramaic revival with help from Sweden

I found an interesting article today about efforts to revive the Aramaic language in Israel. The Syriac variety of Aramaic is used in the Maronite Christian and Syrian Orthodox churches, where prayers are chanted in the language, though few understand them. Only the elderly members of the community still speak the language, which is the case for many other endangered languages. It seems that transmission of the language within families has broken down and in an effort to make up for this, children are taught the language in two schools for a few hours a week on a voluntary basis. This is unlikely to produce many fluent speakings – using the language as a medium of instruction would be a more effective way of doing that – but it’s better than nothing.

There are also Aramaic speaking communities in Sweden, who produce various publications, including a newspaper and children’s books, and also run a television station in Aramaic. The TV station gives the Maronite and Syrian Orthodox communities in Israel opportunities to hear Aramaic being used in non-religious contexts, which encourages them to use the language more.

Dialect, vernacular, patois?

The other I found quite an interesting article about Shanghainese which suggest that’s it has become a bit more popular recently, and is being used for some announcements in public transport and on planes, and that children are allowed to speak it at one school, at least during breaks.

The article says that about 10 million people in Shanghai speak Shanghainese, and then another 10 million don’t. Some of the non-Shanghainese speakers “consider the vernacular pride movement either unnecessary or unwelcome.”, and one woman who has spent most of her life in Shanghai seems to proud that she doesn’t speak Shanghainese.

Shanghainese is variously referred to as a lingua, a dialect, a vernacular and a patois at different points in the article, though not a language.

Though there are slight plenty of Shanghainese speakers, there are apparently relatively few young speakers, which is not a good sign for its future.

Ryukyuan languages

Following on from Sunday’s language quiz, I found an interesting article about Language Loss and Revitalization in the Ryukyu Islands.

There are apparently quite a few different languages spoken in the Ryukyu Islands – at least 10, and while they are related to Japanese, the percentage of shared cognates is 66% or less – 59% for Miyako (less than between English and German).

Do any of you speak these languages? Or have you studied them?

Languages in the news

Here are a few language-related articles I found recently:

Tolkien and Made Up Languages – an article about Tolkien, whose 120 birthday it would be today if he was still around, his languages, and other fictional languages such as Newspeak and Nadsat.

The secret to learning languages – Tips from the polyglots: Find out how your brain works.

I’ve also discovered that Collins Dictionaries in English, French, German and Spanish are available for free online. They also give translations of words in quite a few other languages.

Humboldt’s parrot

Amazonian green parrot

There’s a story that in 1799 the German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) was exploring the Orinoco and Amazon rivers and documenting the languages and cultures of the tribes he encountered there. While spending time with one tribe of Carib people, he asked them about their neighbours and rivals, the Maypure, who he was keen to visit. He was told that the Maypure had all been killed recently by the Carib tribe he was visiting, however they did have a couple of the Maypure’s pet parrots who spoke some of their language. Von Humboldt took the parrots back to Europe and transcribed their words – the only record we have of the Maypure language, which is also written Maypure, Maipure, Maypore or Maypore’. There seems to be some doubt whether this story is true: there is no mention of the parrots in von Humboldt’s meticulous journals, but there are phonetic transcriptions of the Maypure words he heard on his travels.

In 1997 an American artist called Rachel Berwick made an art installation entitled May-por-e’ consisting of a large cage containing Amazonian plants and parrots who had been taught to speak the remnants of the Maypure language.

These two anecdotes were related by David Crystal at a fascinating talk about language death he gave yesterday at Bangor University. He used the first one to illustrate how languages can disappear completed if they are unwritten and undocumented. We only know something about Maypure because of the parrots, but in many cases once the last speaker of a language dies it is as if that language never existed.

The second story shows how the message of language death can be powerfully portrayed through the arts. Professor Crystal believes that this is the best way to make ordinary people aware of the issue. Linguists can document languages, and advise on revival and revitalisation efforts, but these are intellectual pursuits that do not engage the emotions, while art, music, drama and other artistic works appeal to the heart rather than the head. He finished his talk by performing part of a play he wrote entitled “Last Speaker”, which tackles language death, and he suggested that we tell any artistic types we know about this phenomenon and that we encourage them to create pieces related to it.

Yesterday evening I mentioned the talk to a friend and talked about it a bit. She thought that endangered languages are confined mainly to remote parts of Africa and was surprised to learn that there are endangered languages on every inhabited continent.

Manx language

I’m on the Isle of Man at the moment doing some research for my dissertation on the revival of the Manx (Gaelic) language. I’m staying in Douglas (Doolish), the island’s capital, and plan to explore other parts of the island – it’s partly a holiday for me as well as a way to collect data.

One of the things I’m investigating is the use of Manx in public. On the ferry from Liverpool they used the Manx for good morning, moghrey mie, a few times in announcements, though that was the only Manx I heard yesterday. I also found some leaflets with collections of useful Manx phrases at the ferry terminal, including some with translations in French, German and Spanish.

When exploring Douglas today I noticed quite a few English/Manx bilingual street signs, and that most government departments, and some shops and other businesses have English and Manx names. So the public visibility of the language is quite high, but you only hear it spoken at certain times and in certain places, which is similar to the situation with Irish in Dublin. For example, today I sat in on a Manx conversation class that takes place every Tuesday lunchtime in a local pub. It was the first time I’d heard live Manx conversation, and somewhat to my surprise, I could understand almost everything they said, which is encouraging. My knowledge of Irish and Scottish Gaelic certainly helps.

Tomorrow I’ll be visiting the Manx medium primary school and talking to some of the teachers. I discovered today that most of the kids there only speak Manx in the school – outside school and at home the speak mainly or entirely in English, except in a few Manx-speaking families. I’ll find out more about this tomorrow.


The other day I came across an interesting article on efforts to keep the Romansh language alive. Romansh or Romansch, which you can hear in last week’s language quiz, is a Romance language spoken mainly in the Swiss Canton of Graubuenden (Grischun/Grigione/Grissons) by about 60,000 people.

There appears to be mixed views on the language – some people are very enthusiastic about the language and do everything they can to encourage its use, others see the language as a handicap.

One significant problem is that Romansh speakers can’t agree which of the five varieties of Romansh should be taught in schools. Lia Rumantscha, the organisation that promotes the language, would like to see Rumantsch Grischun, a standard written form of the language, used in all schools by next year. Other people would prefer to continue using their local varieties of Romansh in schools.

According to a book I was reading yesterday, Sustaining linguistic diversity: endangered and minority languages and language varieties, there have been similar problems in Ireland with the government wanting a standard form of Irish taught in schools, while people in Irish-speaking areas (gealtachtaí) would prefer to use their local varieties of the language.


I handed in my last essay today, so that’s pretty much the end of the taught part of my course and I can now concentrate on my dissertation. It’s a great relief to get all the assignments out of the way after spending what seems like ages on them. Fortunately I don’t have any exams this semester. The course seems to have gone really quickly and I’ve learned a lot of interesting and useful things. The areas I’ve found most interesting have been phonetics, bilingualism and speech and language disorders.

I plan to spend the last two weeks of June on the Isle of Man gathering information for my dissertation, learning some more Manx, and having a bit of a holiday. The last time I was on the island was about 30 years ago when I went there on a day trip from primary school, and I’m looking forward to going back. I’ve started making contact with a number of Manx speakers and hope to meet as many of them as possible when I’m on the island.

Are there any Manx speakers or learners who read this blog?

Vel Gaelgeyryn erbee lhaih yn blog shoh?