Foundation for Endangered Languages
12. And Finally…
Taken in Vain
Quoted from Fairfax Presbyterian Church, Sermon by Henry Brinton, 25 July 2004) http://www.fairfaxpresby.com/worship/
Manx. It’s the language of the Isle of Man, and on December 27, 1974, it was officially pronounced dead. Its last native speaker died at the age of 97. Words like “coghal,” meaning a large chunk of dead flesh in an open wound, are now lost and out of use. That seems like a real pity, doesn’t it? I don’t know what I’m going to do when I need a word for a large chunk of dead flesh in an open wound.
There are 6,800 spoken languages today, and experts believe that at least half will be dead by the end of the century. Nicholas Ostler is president of a foundation for endangered languages, and he is concerned about the large number of rare languages that are now in danger of becoming extinct. He points out that languages die for a number of reasons -- war, genocide, disease, low birth rates, government policy. But globalization is probably posing the biggest threat of all. As the global village spreads and various economies become more intertwined, many people who speak minority languages will stop using them. For very practical reasons, they will switch to majority languages such as English, Chinese, or Hindi-Urdu.
Australia is a good example. English came to this continent through British colonization, just as it came to North America, and it became the language of government and commerce. As a result, 138 of Australia’s 261 native languages are now nearly extinct. (Nicholas Ostler, “A Loss for Words,” Foreign Policy, Nov-Dec 2003, 30-31)
You have to wonder if we are experiencing the same problem with the language of prayer. Is this a minority language that is used by fewer and fewer people, leaving it with a cloudy and uncertain future?
Have we allowed the dominant languages of government and commerce to take over our lives, edging out the lesser-known speech patterns that can connect us in a life-giving way to our Lord? Have we pushed the language of prayer to the verge of extinction, making it a tongue that has just a handful of speakers, most of them elderly?
In short, when it comes to prayer, are we at a loss for words? …
The Decent Obscurity of a Minority Language
Edward Gibbon wrote in his autobiography:
Comedian Spike Milligan has finally got the last laugh, more than two years after his death. An Irish citizen, he was buried in England, close to his home in Udimore where he died, aged 83, from liver failure in February 2002.
His grave is at St Thomas's Church in Winchelsea, East Sussex. Visiting fans had found his grave was marked only by some plants and a small statue, because his family had been unable to reach consensus on what should be on the headstone. Now at last his relatives have agreed his epitaph.
However, to be approved by the Chichester Diocese, the inscription had to be written in Irish Gaelic. It reads:
"Duirt me leat go raibh me breoite"