February 22, 2008

Rescuing languages is impossible?

No Tears For Dead TonguesMany hope that we can turn back the tide with programs to revive indigenous languages, but the sad fact is that this will almost never be seriously effective. For an educated English speaker, learning to hold a conversation in French or Spanish isn't too difficult. But learning small, endangered languages is a much tougher business, because they are often as different from European languages as Berik.

I once taught a class of Native Americans their ancestral language in a summer program. This had the positive effect of helping them feel connected to their ancestors, but there was no possible way they were going to be able to converse in the language. Native American languages seem almost designed to frustrate someone who grew up with English. There are sounds it's hard to make unless you were born to them.

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