Welsh is considered a model for language revitalization, but its fate is still uncertain

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Saving the Indigenous Languages of Okinawa

Bernadine Racoma Dec 2nd, 2014


In a classroom, students shyly introduced themselves in Okinawan, an endangered language, as linguists and concerned people attempt to save the indigenous languages of Okinawa.

Okinawa, whose name translates to “rope in the open sea,” is one of Japan’s 47 prefectures and part of the 49 inhabited and 111 uninhabited islands that make up the Ryukyu Islands.

Declining use

While considered part of the Japonic language family that includes Japanese, there are six remaining Ryukyuan languages that cannot be understood by Japanese speakers. The use of these languages is declining as the members of the younger generation are taught to use Standard Japanese, which is used in formal situations and occasions. The indigenous languages are now being considered as dialects. The de facto everyday language by people under the age of 60 is Okinawan Japanese, which is mainland Japanese with Okinawan accent. The traditional Okinawan is now only used in folk dance, folk music and other traditional cultural activities. 

The number of remaining native speakers is not known. Estimates range from a handful to a few hundreds. Each of the six main languages is distinct from Japanese and from each other.

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[Reposted from the Indigenous Languages & Technology listserv]

Michigan teacher works to preserve indigenous language

Movements to revitalize Native American languages have been popping up across the U.S. in recent years. Tribes from Massachusetts to California are using federal funds to help preserve their native tongues. The Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma has developed Cherokee language versions of Google, Wikipedia, and even Facebook.

Lansing State Journal reporter Kathleen Lavey recently profiled the efforts of one Michigan tribe to revitalize the Anishinaabe language by teaching it to its youngest members.

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[reposted from the Indigenous Languages and Technology listserv]

In Japan’s Okinawa, saving indigenous languages is about more than words

By Anna Fifield November 29

NISHIHARA, Japan — Rising in turn at their wooden desks, the students giggled, squirmed or shuffled as they introduced themselves, some practically in a whisper.
“Waa naamee ya — yaibiin . . . (My name is . . . ).” One by one, the classmates at Okinawa Christian University managed to get out their names, a few confidently, but most of them sheepishly.

Teacher Byron Fija waved his arms around, laughed and tried to encourage the class, which looked like a college group anywhere — some in hoodies, others in baseball caps and one guy with green hair.

But it was clear that the language — Okinawan — didn’t come naturally to most of them.

It’s the biggest of the six main indigenous languages spoken in this subtropical Japanese island chain, once the independent Ryukyu kingdom but now best known for hosting most of the American military bases in Japan.

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UC students’ research wows judges at Grad Slam competition

The San Francisco Chronicle has a fun article about the Grad Slam competition that took place yesterday in Oakland, where I got 2nd place!

“Nothing dampens a party mood — or bores a potential investor — more than a know-it-all who explains a favorite research topic in all its jargony glory.

So on Monday in downtown Oakland, 10 University of California graduate students competed to see who could untangle their knotty investigations in the clearest way for just plain folks.”

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Keeping African languages out of African schools?

[Reposted from Beyond Niamey]

Keeping African languages out of African schools?

Humiliation of Ugandan students who speak their mother tongue in school, and Malawi’s recent decision to move to an English-only instruction policy, reflect the continued low status of African languages in African education. In much of Africa, the first languages of students are formally excluded from African schools by national policies, and/or accorded low or even negative value in school culture. In the extreme, this situation can be seen in terms of denial of human rights (perwork by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas), but in any event seems to run contrary to ample research on the benefits of  learning in the mother tongue and of bilingual education.
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For Americans Fighting to Reclaim Their Culture, Thanksgiving Means More Than Food

November 25, 2014
by Colleen Fitzgerald

Every fourth Thursday in November, Americans find time for family, sharing food, traditions and language. Stories of that iconic first Thanksgiving evoke images of Pilgrims and Indians, but as is so often the case with history and popular culture, some details are missing. Two of the biggest ― those Indians were the Wampanoag, and within two centuries, their language ceased to be spoken.

Today, the Wampanoag and other Native American tribes give thanks for those who fight to bring their languages home again.

Food is not the only thing humans crave. Losing your language creates a hunger for that piece to make you whole again. This hunger is seen in so many U.S. indigenous communities. It is a hunger to reconnect with heritage, to regenerate culture and traditions, and to revitalize heritage languages.

Language is a powerful badge of identity. The Wampanoag know this. The restoration of their language, powered by Jessie Little Doe Baird and the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, includes summer language camps where children experience their tribal language ‘set within a cultural context,’ for example, learning how to plant, harvest and cook traditional foods. These foods, plants and animals are familiar to those of us who are not Native Americans. Words like squash, persimmon, hickory, chipmunk, skunk and possummade their way into English in a route that originated in different Algonquian languages, writes linguist Ives Goddard.


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[Reposted from the Indigenous Languages & Technology listserv]