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  • Linguists estimate 6,000-7,000 languages are spoken worldwide,

  • and so that sounds like a tremendous amount of languages,

  • tremendous linguistic diversity,

  • but what that actually means

  • is that many, many languages have few numbers of speakers,

  • and in fact in many countries, as many as 90% or more of the people in that country

  • speak a language at home

  • other than the national or official language of that country.

  • 30 languages including English, Arabic, Hindi, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese,

  • include more than 4 billion people speaking the language

  • so if there's 7 billion people worldwide,

  • and 4 billion people speak 30 languages,

  • that doesn't leave a lot of speakers left for the remaining 6,970 languages.

  • And in fact, more than half of the world's languages

  • are in critical situations for their survival.

  • These languages are endangered.

  • UNESCO has a series of criteria

  • that outline how a language is doing in terms of its survival.

  • And for these languages,

  • if there's no children in the home learning the language,

  • if there are only elderly speakers remaining,

  • those languages are in severely threatened states.

  • It maybe they're just vulnerable,

  • and in a few years, a few decades, the speakers will go,

  • but many languages are in a critically endangered situation

  • which means their very survival is threatened.

  • In fact, every continent in our global world

  • has an endangered language.

  • Endangered languages are found worldwide,

  • So, these critically endangered languages are on every continent,

  • but tiny languages are fighting back for their survival.

  • In Europe, the example of Irish is an amazing story,

  • and inspiring story of language revitalization and reclamation.

  • In the 19th century, as speakers started to realize

  • there were fewer and fewer Irish speakers and English was taking over,

  • they started to engage in efforts

  • in order to see that their languages survived.

  • In the Gaeltacht, those are the parts of Ireland

  • where the most number of speakers are found,

  • the most dense areas of Irish Gaelic speakers.

  • In the 20th century, we saw things like radio,

  • Irish Gaelic radio emerged,

  • and so new media offered places for speakers to regenerate and revive.

  • The indigenous language, Maori, spoken in New Zealand,

  • is the New Zealand indigenous language,

  • and that language has had a very vary lots of challenges that it's faced.

  • In the 1970s, the communities started to realize

  • that the survival of the language was threatened,

  • and so what happened in the 1980s is that Maori community members sought to

  • recreate that environment where language is best learnt :

  • in the home.

  • In the home, for child rearing

  • where parents, and grandparents, and children

  • engage in daily activities, immersed in their language.

  • This is the place where children best learn the language.

  • And so in the 1980s, the Maori created "language nests,"

  • trying to recreate that environment which was not possible at that time

  • because the parent generation, the childbearing generation,

  • did not speak the language, and as a consequence,

  • the Maori language nest model has taken over in many communities worldwide,

  • seeking to revive and revitalize their language use that model.

  • Closer to home in Arlington, Texas,

  • only three hours down the road in Ada, Oklahoma

  • is the Chickasaw Language Revitalization Program.

  • And this program is vigorously engaged in making sure its language survives

  • into the next generation.

  • Chickasaw, at best, has 60 to 65 speakers of the Chickasaw language,

  • and non of them are under the age of 60.

  • You can see that's a challenging situation for the Chickasaw tribal members.

  • But what the Chickasaw Language Program does

  • is they create lots of opportunities for their citizens

  • to engage and partake in the language.

  • For example,

  • playing cards with the language allow the grandparents, parents, and children

  • to engage in games, and have the language there.

  • If we look to Australia

  • where there's tremendous diversity in Aboriginal languages,

  • we find an inspiring example of a sleeping language being reawakened.

  • Jack Buckskin, a young Kaurna man

  • has been instrumental in bringing his language back.

  • With the help of linguist Rob Amery, and archival materials in the language,

  • Jack Buckskin learnt his language, he teaches his language,

  • and now his little girl speaks the language

  • which she learned in the home.

  • So once again, thanks to Jack Buckskin and his efforts,

  • and efforts of others around him;

  • what we see is the Kaurna language again spoken by children.

  • It's not just about language.

  • Tremendous amounts of information is stored and encoded in language :

  • culture, traditions, life ways, food,

  • knowledge about the seasons, climate, plants, and animals.

  • In fact, if we stay in Australia,

  • there's a significant oral tradition

  • among a number of different aboriginal people

  • that there was a time when the sea level was low,

  • and what is now island was then connected land

  • where people could roam.

  • But then the sea levels rose and life changed,

  • and this is something that's found in many aboriginal traditions:the story of the sea level change.

  • And if fact, there's parallels in western science for climate change

  • that 6,000-7,000 years ago the water levels rose.

  • The Gwich'in in Alaska

  • are in a part of the world with Arctic climates,

  • and its climate in this environment is rapidly changing.

  • One of the things that they have lived on that's been essential to their survival is the caribou.

  • The caribou plays a strong role in tradition subsistence,

  • and as the weather is changing, as the land is changing,

  • the Gwich'in are rapidly engaged in vigorously documenting

  • what they know about the caribou.

  • They have a rich vocabulary for the parts and the anatomy of the caribou.

  • Elders have amazing amounts of traditional knowledge

  • about how the caribou was hunted, ceremonies involved the caribou

  • so this is a centre of the life ways of the Gwich'in,

  • and they're working to make sure

  • that knowledge is there for future generations,

  • and that knowledge is tied to the language.

  • But it's not just Alaska,

  • if we look to the Tohono O'odham in the Sonoran Desert,

  • what we see is a people

  • vigorously engaged in traditional food ways,involved in plant activities.

  • For example, the harvest of the Bahidaj,

  • the red ripe fruit of the Haashan, of the Saguaro cactus.

  • People still harvest that fruit

  • and that fruit's harvest in June

  • is usually a signal that the rains are coming,

  • it's an integral part of the calendar of the Tohono O'odham life and traditions.

  • Tohono O'odham community action is a non-profit,

  • it's engaged in the language and cultural revitalization,

  • and making sure these traditional ways of harvesting plants, of planting foods are kept alive.

  • Ceremonies, traditional games it's all about health and life ways,

  • and finding that wholeness that's involved in the traditional foods,

  • in the traditional activities, in the traditional sports.

  • The O'odham have some of the highest IBD rates in the world

  • and reclaiming that cultural connection

  • can allow them to have a healthier path to the future.

  • It's not just about history, it's about technology,

  • the Cherokee leaders in digital technology with language.

  • So right now, thanks to localisation projects

  • the Cherokee Language Program has with Microsoft, Apple, and Google,

  • you can text on your iPhone in Cherokee.

  • The Cherokee have long been leaders in digital language technology:

  • when Sequoyah invented the writing system, the Cherokee syllabary in the 1800s,

  • what you soon saw were printing presses

  • creating a large literature in the Cherokee language,

  • and a large written tradition.

  • When the Cherokee were forced out of their traditional lands in the south-east

  • into what was then Indian territory and became Oklahoma,

  • one of the things that was quick to happen

  • was the re-emergence of the printing presses,

  • and the re-emergence of a printed Cherokee literature.

  • (voice-over in Cherokee) The little, green lizard sat on a tree limb.

  • The little green lizard sat on a tree limb

  • and he would change colours, green and red.

  • While he sat on the tree limb, he changed colours.

  • The little lizard was in the grass and his two lizard friends came along,

  • and they went into the sand.

  • At best, 200 speakers by the last count, but probably far fewer.

  • Most of the speakers are in their late 50s or older.

  • We had Janelle Batis, a speaker in her 30s who was able to speak the language

  • because her parents did not allow them to speak English in the home.

  • We had her here on the UT Arlington campus,

  • and were able to use technology to help

  • create materials that can be used to teach the language,

  • and that have been used in culture in language camps

  • hosted by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas.

  • Technology also allows people to cross the digital divide, cross the world,

  • on February 21st, we celebrate International Mother Language Day,

  • a holiday dedicated by UNESCO in honour of Bangla activists

  • who in 1952, died to get their language recognized with official status.

  • Would you die for your language? They did. They did.

  • So now, Rising Voices and Global Voices lead a global social media campaign

  • to celebrate linguistic diversity, and tweet in your mother language.

  • And UT Arlington's Native American Languages Lab

  • was partner on that project,

  • and so we were very happy to be tweeting and retweeting all the languages of the world,

  • including Yuchi, just down the street, Cherokee, just down the road,

  • and Chickasaw, on that day, as well as Gaelic.

  • Native languages matter. Indigenous languages matter.

  • And what we see is that tribes in the United States

  • are languages which are spoken nowhere else other than in the United States,

  • are having efforts where they're trying to support that language,

  • and see that those languages survive into the next millennium.

  • Jessie 'Little Doe' Baird is a Wampanoag woman.

  • The Wampanoag language had not been spoken for 150 years.

  • They're the tribe that celebrated that mythical first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrim Indians; perhaps you've heard of it

  • In the years after that contact, that first contact,

  • what you saw was a tremendous literature being written in the Wampanoag language.

  • The Bible, yes, but also lots of documents

  • deeds, wills, diaries, all kinds of materials were written

  • and in fact, it may be

  • the largest corpus of written documents in any Native American language.

  • The language fell dormant,

  • and one day Jessie had dreams of her ancestors speaking,

  • visions that her ancestors were speaking to her in,

  • it was the language.

  • And Jessie went and got a Masters in Linguistics, and studied these documents,

  • and related languages,

  • and she breathed new life into her language.

  • She learnt the language, she teaches the language,

  • and she used the language in the home,

  • and her little girl is the first native speaker of Wampanoag in 150 years.

  • The human spirit craves that connection to ancestors,

  • but the human spirit also has great hope for the future,

  • and heritage languages allow us to transcend the past and the future,

  • and to make sure that heritage, that future, that connection to ancestor is always there.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

Linguists estimate 6,000-7,000 languages are spoken worldwide,

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【TEDx】Back to the Future of Endangered Languages | Colleen Fitzgerald | TEDxUTA

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    Zhou Lu posted on 2016/01/24
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