HOW DO SPEAKERS RESPOND TO LANGUAGE ENDANGERMENT?
abdul at October 1st, 2015
We should not expect a uniform response to language endangerment any more than we should expect to see a uniform process involved in the disappearance of languages. In many cases, there is cause for regret that particular world views are lost when smaller languages cease to be spoken, as documented by Harrison (2007: 4):
What does it feel like to speak a language with 10 or fewer speakers? For people like Vasya Gabov of Siberia, who at the age of 54 is the youngest fluent speaker of his native Ös language, it means to feel isolated and to rarely have an opportunity to speak one’s native tongue. It means to be nearly invisible, surrounded by speakers of another, dominant language who do not even acknowledge yours. Speakers in this situation tend to forget words, idioms, and grammatical rules due to lack of practice. When asked to speak, for example, by visiting linguists hoping to document the language, they struggle to find words. Ös is now spoken by fewer than 30 individuals, as it is the daily, household language of just a single family. All other speakers reside in households where Russian serves as the medium of most conversations. In this situation, one shared by speakers of thousands of small languages worldwide, it becomes hard to be heard, hard not to forget, hard not to become visible.
LISTEN AND WATCH
Vasya Gabov talks about the invention of script to write Ös: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&list=PL77E9549A1F2DB148&v=N3AaMUaCmFw
However, as Edwards (2010: 6) notes, ‘the forces acting upon a minority-language community may be such that a shift to the overarching variety becomes inevitable’. In such circumstances, it may indeed make economic sense for minority language speakers to shift to the majority language, for the sake of future generations, if nothing else. As outside observers, it is important that we refrain from making value judgements about such decisions. Who does not want to see his or her own children benefit from modernization? Of course, culturally speaking, the loss of the communicative use of a minority language may weaken the sense of group identity a language community has, but it should be noted that ‘a language that is no longer regularly spoken may yet have a role to play in the maintenance of group boundaries’ (Edwards 2010: 6). Language shift may not always be viewed in such tragic terms by members of the language community in question as it is by outside commentators. If ‘the price of original-language retention is geographical and cultural isolation’ (Edwards 2010: 11), then in some cases, this may be too high a price to pay. Nevertheless, it should be noted that in many cases, speakers of endangered languages do wish that it could all be different. The following clip is by a speaker of Akélé (or Kélé, spoken in Gabon), explaining how she regrets the decline in the use of the language: http://www.sorosoro.org/en/videos-in-akele-language-gabon#state language akele or: http://youtu.be/1emhmDX8Aa0