Friday, August 13, 2010


Linguist on mission to save Inuit 'fossil 
language' disappearing with the ice

Cambridge researcher will live in Arctic and document 
Inughuit culture and language threatened by climate change.

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

Stephen Pax Leonard will soon swap the lawns, libraries and high tables of Cambridge University for three months of darkness, temperatures as low as -40C and hunting seals for food with a spear.
But the academic researcher, who leaves Britain this weekend, has a mission: to take the last chance to document the language and traditions of an entire culture.
"I'm extremely excited but, yes, also apprehensive," Leonard said as he made the final preparations for what is, by anyone's standards, the trip of a lifetime.
Leonard, an anthropological linguist, is to spend a year living with the Inughuit people of north-west Greenland, a tiny community whose members manage to live a similar hunting and gathering life to their ancestors. They speak a language – the dialect is called Inuktun – that has never fully been written down, and they pass down their stories and traditions orally.

Read the rest of this interesting article here.

Some intriguing facts about languages at the bottom of the above mentioned page:

A language dies every 14 days, and half the languages spoken today are expected to vanish by 2100. Languages on the endangered list include:
• The secret language of the Kallawaya, who live in the Bolivian Andes, is more 400 years old and is spoken by fewer than a hundred people. In daily life, the Kallawaya use Spanish or Aymara, but when discussing the medicinal plants central to their role as healers, the men speak their own private language.
• Aboriginal Australia holds some of the world's most endangered languages including Amurdag, which was believed to be extinct until a few years ago when linguists came across speaker Charlie Mangulda living in the Northern Territory.
• Mednyj Aleut is spoken by a handful of people in Eastern Siberia. Unlike most languages it has two parents, a combination of largely Aleut vocabulary and Russian verb endings.
• Siletz Dee-ni is spoken on the Siletz reservation in Oregon. When the reservation was created in 1855 it held speakers of many different languages. In order to communicate with each other residents adopted a pidgin version of Chinook, in the process nearly wiping out their indigenous languages.

See also a previous post featuring a TED talk on endangered cultures.  

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