Spoken here travels among threatened languages ebook


    Mark Abley, an award-winning journalist, writes for the Montreal Gazette, the Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. He speaks English, French, and. Editorial Reviews. From Publishers Weekly. There are roughly 6, languages in use in the # in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Reference > Words, Language & Grammar > Linguistics; # in Books > Politics & Social Sciences. In Spoken Here, Mark Abley takes us on a world tour from the Arctic Circle to Oklahoma to Australia in a fervent quest to document some of the world's most.

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    Spoken Here Travels Among Threatened Languages Ebook

    Originally published: Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Includes bibliographical references (pages ) and index. In Spoken Here. If you ally habit such a referred spoken here travels among threatened languages mark abley ebook that will manage to pay for you worth, acquire the very best. To read the data file, you will need Adobe Reader program. If you do not have Adobe Reader already installed on your computer, you can download the installer.

    High above the waterline, two children are skipping barefoot along an otherwise empty beach, its contours defined and guarded by a pair of mangrove swamps. A long, low island nudges the western horizon. This could be an afternoon scene on almost any tropical coast: the heat rising off the sand, a hawk scouring the sky. One of the children pauses in her game. Among the fragments of driftwood and corrugated iron, the rusted fishing traps and crushed plastic bottles, she has found something different: a shell as long as her forearm. She looks up from the beach to the few scattered houses in the hamlet of Kuy. Then she calls to her grandmother, Mona, who is sitting as usual on a yellow foam mattress. Laid out on a verandah, the mattress gives a view of the sea. The trip is possible only in a four-wheel-drive vehicle down a dirt trail that slithers inland through the silver-green bush, passing the corpse of a small airplane and fording the same creek twice before it links up with a gravel road that ends or begins in town. Somewhere along that trail, as you skirt the treacherous pools of deep red sand or disturb a loud gathering of cockatoos, you pass a border. The border is no less real for its lack of fences, checkpoints, and customs officers. It marks the ancient division between the Murrinh-Patha land that includes the town of Wadeye and the Mati Ke land that includes the small outstation here at Kuy. In Aboriginal Australia, land and language are intimately related. Traditionally, the continent was de- fined and divided not only by its hills, creeks, and water holes but also by its hundreds of languages.

    Aborigines of Northern Australia progressed within a few generations from the Mesolithic to their current lives of crime, welfare dependency, junk food and resultant diabetes, and watching television. Unsurprisingly, young people among them consider American rap music and the language thereof to be more relevant to their lives than traditional creation myths and the languages thereof. Murals depicti A Canadian poet and journalist goes around the world visiting speakers of moribund languages.

    Manx revival enthusiasts force their small children to speak the language they themselves speak poorly, and coin Manx words for diapers and pacifier; at least they don't make them speak Klingon, like this linguist father.

    A Yiddish play about Harry Houdini staged in Montreal had tableaux translating the dialogue into English and French; where the English translation had "G-d", the French one had "Dieu" instead of "D"; during the intermission, all conversations were in English and French except for a single one in Yiddish. At a lecture by Ruth Wisse, a professor of Yiddish literature at Harvard, a French Canadian man asked her why the Jews do not support the struggles of the Quebecois: without Quebec's notorious language laws, their language could suffer the fate of Yiddish in Anglophone North America.

    Mark Abley acknowledges that he is a journalist and not a professional linguist, but at least he could have gotten one to proofread his book. It is probably not true that a certain Australian Aboriginal language and its forerunners were spoken "before the foundations of Sumer and Babylon were dug - and before the great myth of Babel first entered anyone's mind" in the area where its last living speakers live.

    The forerunner of English was spoken at that time too; it probably resembled Sanskrit the noun has masculine, feminine and neuter genders, singular, dual and plural numbers, and 8 cases or Hittite the noun has animate and inanimate genders, singular and plural numbers, and 7 cases , and it was not spoken in England.

    Why should we assume that the Australian Aboriginal language changed less in years, and its speakers didn't move?

    He and his mother are visiting from their home in Wadeye. His shirt is army fatigue; his hair displays streaks of blond dye; his gaze is sullen. Patrick too spent many years in town. His family began to give up the bush when he was a boy. Deprived of the old habits of life, unable to embrace the new, a host of men and women forfeited their pride. Patrick did not. Twelve or fifteen years ago, when the government was promoting the growth of outstations as a way for Aboriginal people to regain a spirit of independence and self-control, he led his wife and some of their extended family away from the frustrations of town and back to his own land, the place he knew by heart.

    Not that they were returning to the bark-and-bough shelters of his childhood. The government built bungalows at Kuy, and erected a small water tower, and hooked up electricity.

    One of the other houses is equipped with a satellite dish, and the children of the outstation go there to watch TV. The TV pours a quick, bubbling stream of English into their ears and minds; but primary school and family life take place in Murrinh-Patha.

    Sometimes Patrick speaks to his grandchildren in Mati Ke, and he claims they understand. Yet whether they grasp more than a few commands, a familiar phrase or two, is open to doubt. They answer him in Murrinh-Patha: the language of their parents, their friends, their doting grandmother. What Patrick Nudjulu hears only in his dreams is another fluent speaker of Mati Ke.

    The lone elder, the half-comprehending family, the stealthy invasion of other languages -- this scene is not unique to Kuy, or Australia, or the Southern Hemisphere. It is happening all over the planet, from the snow-peaks of the Himalayas to the humid rivers of West Africa and the shantytowns of great cities in South America. The phenomenon is not new, for languages have always been in flux; languages have always died. No one alive today can hold a conversation in Hittite or Nubian.

    But the sheer pace of change is unprecedented. On every inhabited continent, languages keep falling silent. New replacements are rare. Linguists believe that about six thousand languages still flow into human ears: the exact total is a matter of debate.

    They are vanishing under similar pressures. A few languages of high prestige -- English is the prime but not the sole example -- dominate the media and the marketplace, school systems and bureaucracies. Local cultures, less forceful, less alluring, are swept aside. At the same time, economic patterns of migration and displacement mean that fewer and fewer small languages still have a vibrant local base, a spoken homeland they can call their own.

    Cities provide new opportunities; they also blur and erase old identities. A minority language can quickly come to seem a hobby for the old -- a quaint refuge from ambition, knowledge, progress. A minority language always depends on popular will.

    It dies as its voices fade in the midst of Palm Pilots, cell phones, and Walkmans. It dies as its remaining speakers find they have less and less to talk about. The price of that loss is beyond estimation. We have grown used to giving cultural artifacts a dollar figure: so many thousand for a Yeats manuscript, so many million for a Ming porcelain. But a language is more than any artifact.

    Mati Ke lacks the ever burgeoning scientific terminology of English and Japanese, nor does it enjoy a written literature.

    Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages

    But like all other human languages, it is a full and rich expression of a way of life, a culture, an identity. Mati Ke, for example, arranges all the objects and beings in the world by means of a system of noun classes. There are ten of these classes, and they reveal an enormous amount about how Patrick Nudjulu understands his daily experience. A kind of red-flowering tree, for instance, is thawurr babarlthang -- thawurr being the noun class for trees, wooden items, and long rigid objects.

    The string made from the inner bark of that tree is nhanjdji babarlthang. You use nhanjdji in front of a broad range of substances both manufactured, like the bark string, and natural: the wind, the sand, the sun. And so on. Weapons go in the same class as lightning.

    Places go in the same class as times Mati Ke, you might say, anticipated Einstein by several thousand years. Speech and language deserve a separate noun class of their own.

    This is how Mati Ke interprets the world. Its arithmetic stops at the number five. Yet without counting, a fluent speaker of Murrinh-Patha knows thirty-one different pronouns and thirty-five verb classes. The grammar and syntax of Mati Ke and Murrinh-Patha are just as elaborate, just as complex and intellectually demanding, as the grammar and syntax of any well-known European tongue. Being widely spoken does not make a language any better, more intelligent, or more perceptive than a language that has never spread beyond its birthplace.

    On the contrary: a number of dead languages are among the most obvious splendours of human intelligence. The language reflects and embodies this understanding. In Mati Ke, nhanjdji marri is the name for the cycad -- an ancient plant whose tall, palmlike fronds are a familiar sight in the northern Australian bush.

    But a defines the class for animals and people, if you mean to insult them. So what are we to make of a marri? And me marri defines those people whose totems are the cycad and the bush cockroach. Aboriginal languages have fewer words in them than English does. But those words are held and balanced in an intricate web of relationships.

    Lose the vocabulary, and you lose the relationships too. Back in town, in a windowless room of the local museum, a ginger-haired, Queensland-born electrician named Mark Crocombe works part time as coordinator of the Wadeye Aboriginal Languages Centre.

    He spends most of his time on Mati Ke and a few other local languages whose numbers are severely depleted. Once in a while, when his other jobs allow, Mark Crocombe leaves the office, fetches a camcorder from his house, puts it on the passenger seat of his beat-up minivan, and drives out to Kuy.

    His aim is to record Patrick speaking Mati Ke. Thanks to their sporadic efforts, Mati Ke will experience a kind of afterlife: a partial, disembodied future. Elsewhere in Australia and in dozens of other countries, too, anthropologists, linguists, graduate students, tribal insiders, and well-meaning outsiders are hastening to record the voices of elders.

    Every captured story is a small victory over time. Through the electronic power of CD-ROMs or the slightly older magic of cassette tapes and the printed page, students in decades to come will be able to gain a limited knowledge of a vanished tongue.

    A museum specimen, lovingly preserved, can give scientists all sorts of useful information except, perhaps, what is most essential: how the extinct bird behaved in the wild.

    Likewise, languages are social creations, constantly being tested and renewed in the mouths of their speakers. They require use, not just study.

    Spoken Here | Open Library

    You can no more restore a vanished language from a scholarly monograph and a software program than you can restore a population of cheetahs from a vial of frozen sperm and a National Geographic film. Speaking to his wife, his children, and his grandchildren, he employs a language that does not come as naturally to him as breath.

    The grandchildren jostle around him on the verandah facing the milky sea. But occasionally he brushes them aside, looking out on the water and the powdery beach without saying a word.

    The coastal outstation at Kuy was, from my perspective as a North American, the most remote place I would visit between the years and Likewise, Mati Ke and Murrinh-Patha were among the most distant languages from my own that I would hear: among the most foreign ways of exercising the mind.

    Living in Montreal, a city where English, French, and other languages are in daily contact -- usually friendly, sometimes bitter -- I had seen a good many statistics about language loss. And it was the emotions, not the numbers, that I cared about: the figures of speech, not the figures on a chart.

    Eventually I embarked on a series of journeys, investigating the fate of linguistic diversity in places as discrepant as a village in the Canadian Arctic and an island off the Australian coast, a scrub farm in Oklahoma and a medieval city in Provence.

    In a few of these places, minority languages appear to be settling down into a comfortable oblivion; in others, the speakers of lesser-used languages are battling, not just to preserve a language but to strengthen and extend it. Still, I believe that the challenges facing hundreds, even thousands of minority languages are mirrored in these pages.

    In Oklahoma, for example, I spent some time among the few remaining speakers of the Yuchi language. Yuchi is what linguists call an isolate: it bears a clear relation to no other living tongue. I wanted to discover what knowledge and understanding may die with Yuchi if it does indeed disappear.

    Spoken Here

    Meeting speakers of Yiddish in several places would allow me to investigate the fate of a diaspora language. In Wales, the country where my parents were born, I was keen to discover how a Celtic language has, against all odds, remained vibrant beside the homeland of English.

    Wherever I traveled, I tried to listen to the actual speakers of languages under threat -- the loyalists of minority cultures. How do people who know their language is endangered bear the weight of such knowledge? I wanted to see how far their defiance could stretch, and how easily resignation could take hold. I wanted to learn what steps can be taken to sustain and strengthen a threatened tongue. Above all, I wanted to test my own hunch that the looming extinction of so many languages marks a decisive moment in human history -- a turning away from vocal diversity in favor of what optimists see as a global soul and others as a soulless monoculture.

    In the end, should anybody care that thousands of languages are at risk? But I have a confession to make. I work as a journalist, poet, and editor; I am not a professional linguist.

    Indeed, my knowledge of the entire discipline of linguistics is patchy and often cursory. These pages do not touch on constructional homonymity and depth-first parsers; such matters lie beyond my frame of reference. My defense is one of analogy.

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