May 02, 2008

The importance of documenting languages

Tongue ties:  a language bridge across the Bering Strait

A Western Washington University professor has compared native languages in North America to those in Asia and found ties that suggest they come from the same ancestors.Vajda, a professor at Western Washington University in Bellingham, recently demonstrated a convincing kinship between a Siberian language family called Yeniseic and a Native American family called Na-Dene, which includes languages spoken in the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest.

The work also underscores the importance of documenting obscure languages before they die out. Vajda closed his symposium paper with this thought: "Who could have guessed that the ancient words Native American and Native Siberian boarding-school children were punished for speaking aloud just a few short decades ago would prove to wield a power vast enough to reunite entire continents?"

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