New research centre to save 'lost languages'

P. Kerim Friedman kerim.list at
Sat Mar 27 03:02:13 UTC 2004


New research centre to save 'lost languages'

   Polly Curtis
Wednesday March 24, 2004

   A language is lost every two weeks, according to the head of a new
centre for research into endangered languages, which is being launched

  People are increasingly choosing to teach their children more commonly
used languages in a bid to help them gain work in later life, their
research says. As a result half of the 6,500 languages spoken around
the world are anticipated to disappear in the next century - a rate of
one every fortnight.

  The new centre for research into endangered languages at the School of
Oriental and African Studies in London, which is backed by £20m grant,
is being launched today by the Princess Royal.

  Researchers will use the money to record and archive endangered
languages and look at ways of encouraging people to retain their
indigenous languages.

  Professor Peter Austin director of the Endangered Languages Academic
Project, said: "The main reason that languages are lost is that
communities are switching to speaking other people's language - they
adopt a language of a local area.

  "Many people in east Africa are opting for Swahili; Indians in central
and south America speak Spanish to their children to give them an
economic advantage."

  The professor, who himself speak three Australian aboriginal languages
as well as two Indonesian dialects, English, some Japanese, German and
Italian, added: "The tragedy is that although people may decide now
that it's better to switch, in a generation or two, their children or
grandchildren will regret that. We're trying to help people remain
multi-lingual by adding languages rather than losing them."

  Along with the endangered languages the centre aims to preserve large
elements of the disappearing cultures. Archived material which
Professor Austin has gathered so far includes interviews with the last
known speaker of Jiwarli, a western Australian Aboriginal dialect, Jack
Butler, who died in 1986.

  Mr Butler describes his childhood experiences as well as telling
traditional aboriginal stories. From between 250 and 270 Australian
Aboriginal languages at the time of European invasion, 160 are now
extinct; 70 are severely threatened and only 20 are still widely used.

Audio: Jack Butler the last native speaker of the western Australian
aboriginal language Jirwarli, tells a traditional story (real audio)
Audio: the translation (real audio)

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