Tribes, literacy, and language loss

Today is the International Day of Literacy, which often makes me think of anthropologist Wade Davis work on languages. According to Davis half the languages of the world are on the brink of extinction. Imagine what it must be like to be the last person that spoke, read, and wrote your native language with no way to pass this knowledge. This happens every two weeks on average to someone around the world. Davis states that this means within a generation or two we will lose half of humanity’s legacy.

As you read this, you may think doesn’t matter, we all speak English and/or wouldn’t it better if there was one language for all, would we all not get along better then? Sure, but let’s make it Icelandic, Liki or Kazakh. Perhaps now we can empathise and understand what it may be like not to have anyone to speak our native language, read books to websites, or write stories and songs to share with others. For many of us a world where people could no longer speak, write or read English seems unimaginable given how much is spoken, written and said in it daily. By losing languages we’re losing more than a solitary voice in the dark but a way of life, customs and traditions.

The following quote is from Stephen Corry who is director of an organisation called Survival International that ‘champions tribal peoples around the world. We help them defend their lives, protect their lands and determine their own futures.’
“Every time another tribe becomes extinct and their language dies, another way of life and another way of understanding the world disappears forever. Even if it has been painstakingly studied and recorded, a language without a people to speak it means little. A language can only live if its people live, and if today’s uncontacted tribes are to have a future, we must respect their right to choose their own way of life.”

So as we go about today speaking, reading, and writing in our various languages on Facebook to E-mail and text think about this. Also, consider not just how lucky we are to have the gifts to do so, because they are gifts that not all humans have the opportunities to learn these even now in the second decade of the 21st century. Equally, embrace our diversity in all its beautiful colours that enrich the world, even removing but one colour from the rainbow would change the world around us forever before it’s too late.

© Fi S. J. Brown

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