Perspectives 11.19.09:Layout 1 2/7/10 10:57 PM Page 1
Languages die faster than flora and fauna
November 19, 2009 G
Mount Holyoke News PERSPECTIVES 11
BY LAURA TURYATEMBA ’11 There are enough reasons to lament the “villagizing” of Extinct languages, however, are not quite the same
CONTRIBUTING WRITER our globe, but one that few have latched onto is the loss of as dead languages. Though scholarship and records provide evidence for dead lan-
cultures through the extinction of languages. guages, no active groups of people can speak it. Latin, Old Church Slavonic and Old Ti-
There are about 6,912 living languages known but research has shown that every betan fall in this category.
fortnight, a language dies. “The pace of language extinction we are seeing, it is really An interesting group of languages is emerging too. In this group are languages that
unprecedented in human history,” said Dr. David Harrison for The Independent in 2007. were extinct but have been actively revived for use in liturgical literature (Hebrew), or
Author of When Languages Die, Harrison reported that the extinction of languages oc- for pre-school instruction (Sanskrit). It is difficult to project if they will ever become the
curs faster than that of the flora and fauna. “More than 40 percent of the world’s lan- native language of the communities in which they are being revived, but as far as noble
guages could be considered endangered compared to 8 percent of plants and 18 percent efforts go, their resuscitation has been critical for the preservation of history and culture.
of mammals,” he told The Independent. Linguists believe that half the languages in the So how does a language die? The main culprits are globalization and migration. The
world will be extinct by the end of the century. lingua franca in cities replaces local languages and dialects, widely used in villages. As
A language becomes extinct when it no longer has any living speakers, or when it more children are born in the city, they take on this lingua franca as their first language
evolves into a new language or a family of languages. It is also considered extinct when and their mother tongue takes a back seat, if at all. As most research and scholarship is
evidence shows that it was spoken in the past but modern scholarship cannot reconstruct conducted in the world’s dominant languages, people feel pressured to perform all their
it for writing and translating purposes. Some extinct languages are Coptic, which intellectual work in say, English, rather than their native languages. Harrison reported
was replaced by Arabic, as well as several Native American languages under- that about 80 percent of the global population today speaks 80 of the world’s dominant
mined by the more domi- languages, among which are English and Russian. Only 0.2 percent of the international
nant Spanish, English community uses the other 3,500 less popular languages.
and French. As ancient languages die out, succumbing to the spread of these bully linguistic
structures, they don’t leave behind a vacuum of voiceless people, but create more speak-
ers of the dominant world languages.
Suffice it to say, then, that all languages are equal, but some are
more equal than others.
UNESCO reports that 538 of the world’s 2,279 endan- Papua New Guinea is the world’s most linguistically
gered languages are on the verge of extinction. diverse nation, with 823 living languages.
Out of 86 endangered indigenous languages in Mexico and Venezuela have 144 and 34 endangered in-
Canada only three—Cree, Inuktitut and Anish- digenous languages accordingly.
Since the 1950s, almost half of California’s native In-
Adopting English abroad: restrictive or liberating?
expected to remain in Aboriginal communities.
dian languages have disappeared.
In Alaska, the Eyak language lost its last speaker,
BY XINYUN ZHU ’13 My grandfather learned to recognize the English let- from Yemen. For instance, a city previously named Dawhi is now known as Tawahi. “Now
CONTRIBUTING WRITER ter “m” thanks to our frequent visits to the local McDon- everyone calls cities by their English names,” she added. In Yemen, many young people
ald’s in my hometown Shenzhen, China. Though I never adopt the English language and prefer to use it in their everyday talk. “I feel worried
managed to convince him to try the food, he knew what this huge red letter stood for. It that they may become less capable of expressing themselves in Arabic, their native lan-
is thus that the English language slowly makes its way into the lives of the Chinese. guage,” Saqran said.
In China, English is a mandatory subject at school, and those who speak it fluently Not all English influences, however, are negative. In Japan, for instance, English
are respected intellectuals and professionals. The language is also popularly used and helped shape Japanese pop (J-pop), a mainstream musical genre that now extends its
sometimes cleverly paired up with Chinese characters to form newly molded words with influence to East and Southeast Asia. English in J-pop, James Stanlaw suggested in his
brand new meanings that only Chinese young generations understand. The boundaries book Japanese English, creates vivid images and allusions that are otherwise hard to ex-
are blurring between Chinese becoming more anglicized, and English increasingly in- press using only Japanese expressions. For example, “anata,” a Japanese pronoun that
fused in the Chinese culture. Do we need English to express new ideas, or do we simply means “you” in English, is an intimate word commonly used between lovers. When the
find it cool to use? songwriter wants to describe a break-up, she will adopt the English word “you.” Thus,
Concerns arise in non-English speaking countries as the influence of the English lan- the artist can better express heartbreaking feelings.
guage extends to daily conversations and local pop culture. These are undestandable re- Aside from music, English is creatively adopted in gendered situations. English loan-
actions, since language is intimately connected to personal and cultural identities, which words, as Stanlaw noted, empower Japanese women to “circumvent certain linguistic
people are afraid of losing. The transformation of language itself also proves worrisome and social constraints in Japanese language.” Thanks to this new communication tool,
as more and more people realize that their native language changes in syntax and many women are able to dip their feet into the water of taboos. Thus, English acts as a facili-
other linguistic aspects under English influences. tator in a social and cultural environment demanding revolutionary expressions.
“During the British colonization period, some cities in Yemen were renamed because So where do we draw the line between the restrictive and liberating powers of the
English people couldn’t pronounce the original cities’ names,” said Lubna Saqran ’13 English language?
H AND GESTURE ACCOMPANYING THE A RABIC GREETING A S -S ALĀMU `A LAYKUM
Laura Turyatemba ‘11 and
Emily Chow ‘12 demonstrate
the hand gesture accompany-
ing the Arabic greeting As-
Salamu `Alaykum in the
Arabian Peninsula. Partici-
pants perform a two-hand
shake and draw their hands
toward their hearts.
The spoken greeting means
“Peace be upon you” in Ara-
bic. The response to the greet-
ing is Wa- 'alaykum as-salam,
meaning “And upon you be
peace.” It is widespread in
Middle Eastern, South Asian,
African and Balkan countries.
Perspectives 11.19.09:Layout 1 2/7/10 10:58 PM Page 2
Learning French through traveling
November 19, 2009 Mount Holyoke News
BY CRYSTAL BOATENG ’10 The TGV train pulled away mersing myself into the language during the first couple of the person at the table next to
from Gare Saint Roch, the main months in Montpellier. I realized there was quite a differ- me about interesting sightsee-
station in Montpellier on a warm autumn morning while ence between the French I had learned in the classroom ings or asking for directions to
the stream of announcements rolled out on the intercom, and the one spoken by natives on the street. I found myself the famous city cathedral, I did
“Mesdames, messieurs votre attention s’il vous plait…” lost in translation on countless occasions as people struck so with ease and comfort. I have
(Attention please, ladies and gentlemen…). A female voice conversations with me on simple topics like where I was to credit my great travel experi-
announced basic train safety tips and the stops along the from and why I was in France. My habit of translating ences to the fact that I was able
way, the final destination being Marseille. As I listened to every sentence into English (in my mind) seemed effective to converse and read in French.
the announcements, I realized that I did not completely in almost all my classes but was no longer helpful in On one of my last trips from
understand everything. However, I put two and two to- France. Yet the more I traveled and interacted with France to the Netherlands, I
gether and concluded that in about half an hour, I would French people, the more progress I started to notice. was stranded at a train station
get off at the station in a city called Nimes. With head- Adventurous travelers would agree that it is exhila- in a city I was unfamiliar with. As I tried to figure out
phones in my ears and my iPod music on, I entered my rating to visit places where foreign languages are spoken. where to board the airport shuttle, I overheard another
comfort zone listening to Alicia Keys’ album As I Am Yet, doesn’t one miss the opportunity for an authentic ex- lady who was also headed to the airport and we ended up
throughout the entire ride. perience by not speaking the native language? As I im- sharing a taxi. Not once did I feel lost in translation during
Prior to studying in France last year, I had never lived proved in conversational French, I observed the our conversation. I found out that she also lived in Mont-
in a country where the language spoken was not my first differences in my interactions and appreciations of the pellier and was traveling to the same city in the Nether-
language. Though I had been studying French for several various cities I visited. Whether it was walking into a café, lands where I was heading. We kept in touch until the time
We b l i n g o
years before visiting the country, I had a difficult time im- ordering a steaming cup of chocolat chaud, chatting with came for me to return to the U.S.
ASAP — As Soon as Possible JIC — Just In Case
BCNU — Be Seeing You LOL — Laughing Out Loud
CUL8R — See You Later L8R — Later @home
G2G — Gotta go MTF — More to Follow @work
BTW— By The way NO1 — No One @school
DL – Download OTW -— On The Way @prospect
F2F — Face To Face PPL — People
FYI — For Your Information TBC — To Be Continued
IDK — I Don’t Know ROTF — Rolling On The Floor (laughing is implied)
IOW — In Other Words SY — Sincerely Yours
IMAO — In My Arrogant Opinion ZZZ — Sleepy, bored or tired
Why former French colony Vietnam doesn’t speak French
JK — Just Kidding 4RL? — For Real?
BY THU NGUYEN ’12 The first time I encountered a foreign language was in words such as cyclo (“xich lo” in Vietnamese), gout (gu) and poupée (bup be).
STAFF WRITER third grade, when my academic curriculum started to include The language-culture dynamics, however, can take different forms in other contexts.
the subject English. The Vietnamese school curriculum, par- In the former French colony Senegal, for instance, French remained the official language.
ticularly for urban schools, requires students to learn a foreign language, and English, Next to the usage of French as the nation’s official language, Senegal has a beautiful mo-
no doubt, has been the number one choice for most schools. saic of regional languages like Wolof, Soninke and Fula. These local cultures seem to
Yet many of my Mount Holyoke friends ask me if in Vietnam we speak French as the offer the perfect ingredients for literary works in French. Now the country boasts some
second official language. Obviously, they have a reason. Vietnam was once a French of the most successful French-language African writers such as Léopold Sédar Senghor.
colony and is still a member country of the OIF (International Organization of La Fran- Sometimes, I love to think of Mount Holyoke as a miniature country where English
cophonie). However, as someone who had spent roughly nine years studying English be- is used as the official language in classrooms and offices. And yet, alongside the usage
fore starting French on my own, I have experienced as much trouble with conjugation of of English, we hear hundreds of other languages like Chinese, Spanish, Vietnamese,
French verbs as anybody else. But even though, like most of my Vietnamese friends, I French and Hindi in the dining halls and at various campus events. Even when we all
hadn’t spoken any French for the first 17 years of my life, this language and culture have speak English, our native cultures subtly add colorful nuances to our speech. At the
somehow always been part of my life. Mount Holyoke’s Alumnae and Students of Color Conference this year, one of the
In fact, reading L’amant (The Lover) by Marguerite Duras in my French 215 class keynote speakers, Jacqueline Elena Featherston, said she was “tri-lingual” in English
brought me back to Vietnam. I loved trailing the roads of Hanoi, my hometown and also when addressing different listeners in her work.
Vietnam’s capital, to delve into the mix of a new, bustling city life and ancient history. Given the most dynamic and exciting link between language and culture that I have
French colonial architecture, an indispensable part of my city’s scenery, has always been realized and started to grasp here, I would like to respond to her thoughts—it’s ideal if
my favorite. I would spend hours enjoying the romantic view of the Big Theater, or imag- you can be 2200-lingual in English while at Mount Holyoke. After all, part of being here
ining myself sipping coffee in the Paris-style coffee shop of L’hôtel Métropole. is about learning a new language, knowing a new culture and discovering the endless
The French language claims a unique place in the Vietnamese culture. In the 20th links between them, no matter whether you officially register for a language course or
century, a generation of talented French-educated writers brought a revolution to the not.
E YE - RUB
Vietnamese language literature, once dominated by Confucian beliefs. We have adopted
N OSE - RUBBING
LYING GESTURE KISSES
Shuyao Wang ‘11 shows the eye-
rub lying gesture. It is a sign of
avoiding eye contact or
metaphorically blocking the lie
welling up in the eye of the
speaker. “Like the child, the
speaker is subconsciously trying
to avoid looking someone in the
eye whilst deceiving them,” wrote
Geoffrey Broughton in his foreign
language study Expressions.
Laura Turyatemba ‘11 and
Shuyao Wang ‘11 demonstrate
the nose-rubbing kiss. It is a tra-
ditional greeting gesture among
the Inuit people of the Arctic.
Also known as kunik, the Eskimo
kissing is an intimate sign of af-
fection. The rubbing of noses is
also commonly used among the
Maori, the indigenous Polynesian
people of New Zealand, where it
is called hongi.