Imaginethat you are the last speaker of your own language, the language you think in,
the language you feel in. Vanishing
Voices, by Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine is a book written about the
extinction of the languages of this world. What a noble cause it is to protect the heart
language of a people, their way of life, and their very existence as a
people. This is the very subject Vanishing
Voices seeks to bring about awareness of.
waste no time drawing the reader into the problem of people loosing theirlanguage and culture by giving examples such as Ned Maddrell, Tevfic Esenç, RedThundercloud, and Laura Somersal who were the last or one of the last speakers
of their languages: Manx, Ubykh, Catawba Sioux, and Wappo respectively.
of the damage is astonishing. Suddenlanguage death is rampant with genocide and natural disasters. Gradual death in many cases is even sadder as
the language slips away over only a few generations. After the children stop learning the language
as the first language, it is only a matter of time before it becomes irrelevant
One of the most tragic things in this book is that languages hold the very essentials of a
culture within its lexicon and structure. Many of these
cultures have words and classifications that supersede
modern science. Examples of peoples who
have hundreds of names for fish, words used in primitive steel making,
fishing hooks, and dozens of different classifications for soil are
given to show that once a language is lost, so is this knowledge that
develop, change, die, and even combine for reasons we cannot understand. Three chapters are designated in this book to
different ways that languages have shifted throughout history. It seeks to understand how some places such a Papua New Guinea
have such diversity while other places don’t have as much. These chapters talk about biological factorsthat contributed to the massive language changes over the years and the
economical reasons these changes may have occurred.
given for why something should be done. The fact that these people
shouldn’t be deprived of their inalienable right to communicate in
their heart language. The
authors make it very clear that something needs to be done, and
quickly. There is too much at stake to wait.
these preservations to be accomplished?
One way is the bottom-up approach.
The example of Hawaiian is given.
Hawaiian has been making much of a comeback as a language since it has
begun to be taught in colleges and schools.
Immersion schools require the children to learn in Hawaiian and
therefore must be fluent. Tests have
shown that they are doing even better than in regular, English speaking
schools. Being bi-lingual has many advantages, so one should learn their native language as well as their national
language. Welsh is another example with
possibly 1/3 of Welsh children speaking it.
Hebrew was an amazing success, having the advantage of it being the
national language as well and no other dominant language for the Jews from all
over the world. Some top-down strategies
are also given such as enacting protective legislation, websites, and agencies,
but these only go as far as the speakers let them. It is really up to the speakers to begin to
use the language on a daily basis and teach it to their children. If the language isn’t used in daily life,
then there probably isn’t anyway that it will be preserved. It must be taught to the kids for everyday