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3. Endangered Languages in the News

Mother Tongue Day Celebrated in Peshawar in Northern Pakistan

Fakhruddin, Frontier Language Institute (FLI)

Mother tongue day was celebrated here in Peshawar, Pakistan, hosted by Gandhara Hindko Adabi Board, Pakistan. Scholars, researchers and common people of eleven languages participated in it. Before the workshop a walk was made, led by the deputy speaker of the NWFP Assembly Mr. Ikram Ullah Shahid. The MNA, Maulana Abdul Akber Chitrali was the Chief Guest.

The Speakers of eleven languages, Khowar, Palula, Dameli, Kalasha, and Gawar-bati, languages spoken in Chitral district, Torwali, Gawri, and Gojri, languages of Swat, Ormuri of South Waziristan and Pashai of Afghanistan along with Pashto and Hindko speakers jointly celebrated the mother tongue day. They made a short walk holding banners demanding the development of the lesser-known languages spoken in the area.

Following the walk participants were invited to join a meeting hosted by the Gandhara Hindko Adabi Board, Pakistan. Many of the participants made speeches in their mother tongues with translation in Urdu. Due to rough weather and blockage of road many representatives could not come from the mountaneous regions but they sent their messages through others living nearby.

The people who delivered their speech were Prof, Khatir Ghaznavi, Dr, Zahoor Ahmad Awan, Maj. (r) Qazi Saeed , Rozi Khan Burki, Zia ud din, M. Shareef Shakib, Inam Ullah, Jahangir Khan, Qari abdul Salam, Shamshi Khan Kalami, Qazi Inayat Jalil, Asmat Ullah, Abdul Hakim Sailab, Fanoos Gujar, Muhammad Awais Qarni and Mutahir Shah.

In their speeches the participants made a variety of demands. They demanded time in the media, especially on TV, and the appointment of local teachers in the schools. “Our children are facing a great difficulty because the teachers come from other languages and our children do not understand their language” said Mr. Asmat Ullah of Chitral, who is doing language research on Dameli, his own mother tongue.

At the end, a joint resolution was passed demanding establishment of a government centre for training people from the lesser-known languages and development of orthographies for these languages at the University of Peshawar.

“We should hold meetings three or four times in a year to discuss our mother tongues “ said the Chief guest, MNA Maulana Abdul Akber Chitrali. He also promised to deliver the messages to the speakers in the National Assembly of Pakistan.

This was the first time that a great number of speakers of different languages gathered here in the provincial capital and made speeches on universal mother tongue day. The people hope the government will change its language policies to benefit all of the language communities.

Following this event, several newspapers of city published news, articles, editorials and pictures about the mother tongue day meeting which had taken place.

The daily Aaj ran the following headline:
"Demand for the establishment of languages development Centre.”

The article was very positive and said that representatives of 20 languages participated in a seminar in City University. It also gave the names of the languages represented in the Mother Tongue Day function. It pointed out that the participants called for the development of some educational materials in their languages. It critised the govenament for its lack of support for these local languages, and demanded time in electronic media for local languages.

The daily Mashriq Peshawar also spoke positively about the event. It quoted Ikramullah Shahid, Deputy Speaker as saying that the development of local languages is the responsibility of the government. The linguists have shown the importance and benefit of local languages. Every one should given the right of mother tongu eduction.

Daily Express Peshawar called for the establishment of a center for all languages and appointments of mother-tongue teachers in villages. It pointed out that in many parts of the world, much is being done to preserve and to promote people’s languages and cultures, but nothing is happening here. This province has a number of languages but the govenament does not give any attention to them. TV and Radio has airtime available for only a few languages spoken in Pakistan.

FLI is based at House 6, Street 1, Salaar Lane,
Old Bara Road, Afzalabad,
Peshawar, Pakistan
Phone: +92 91 585 3792; Fax: +92 91 57 00 250

Bill would boost efforts to retain Penobscot language
31January, 2006: The Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - The days in which Penobscot children were admonished for speaking their native language in school are long gone. But the Penobscots still need to do more to rebuild a language that was nearly lost forever, a tribal lawmaker says.

Michael Sockalexis, who represents his tribe in the Legislature, has introduced a bill that would add $300,000 to a Penobscot Language Preservation Fund operated by the state Department of Education. The money would be matched by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Many Penobscots know some words or phrases, but few are fluent. Precise figures are hard to come by, but Sockalexis said there are only a handful of ''traditional speakers'' among the tribe's more than 2,300 members, more than 1,000 of whom still live in Maine.

Sockalexis said he was part of the last generation to be immersed in the Penobscot language at home. But even he is no longer fluent. ''I lost it,'' he said.

With the language ''at a tipping point,'' the goal is to continue to instill the language in the tribe's children and to turn it back into a conversational language, he said.

The tribe, which has a reservation on Indian Island, is working hard to do just that, using an after-school program that serves all students in the K - 8 school, as well as an immersion summer camp at which students speak nothing but Penobscot.

The state funding and the matching funds would allow the tribe to move the language program back into the regular classroom, Sockalexis said.

Maine's four Indian tribes - the Penobscot Nation, Passamaquoddy Tribe, Houlton Band of Maliseets and Aroostook Band of Micmacs - speak languages that are closely related. Those tribes and the Abenakis comprise what is known as the Wabanaki Confederacy.

Wayne Newell, a Passamaquoddy language coordinator and an authority on all of Maine's tribal languages, said he prefers to speak Passamaquoddy. ''When we were kids, that's all you spoke. That's allyou had. That's all you saw,'' he said.

Now, Newell said, children of all tribes are unlikely to become fluent in their native languages, or to speak them at all, unless they learn them at school.

"The Last Speakers": UK premiere

The UK premiere of the film "The Last Speakers" took place in London at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) on 17 May 2006. The film is slated for US release in the fall of 2006, on PBS.

More information can be found at:
and a preview at

Virginia Algonquian raised from the dead for "The New World"

Terrence Malick, director and writer of New Line Cinema's recent Release "The New World," hired our fellow FEL member, Blair Rudes, (i/c FEL inc., and chair of our 2000 Conference, FEL IV - EL & Literacy) to lend historical realism to the movie by coaching the cast in Virginia Algonquian, the language spoken by Pocahontas and other Native Americans that were encountered in the founding of Jamestown. Malick had first tried to hire a native speaker, only to discover that the language had been extinct since around 1785. Rudes is an authority on the surviving material on Virginia Algonquian.

"Originally they wanted the language revived for one scene and done by the end of the month, in keeping with the production schedule," said Rudes. "But the records of the Virginia Algonquian language are, shall we say, limited."

Rudes, who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, "re-built" the language from a list of about 500 words transcribed by William Strachey in 1609, and a few more words recorded by John Smith. With the vast majority of the vocabulary missing, along with its syntax, Rudes had to fill the gaps with material from other Algonquian languages and his knowledge of comparative Algonquian linguistics.

The product of Rudes' work was so convincing to the director and actors that Virginia Algonquian, originally intended to be spoken in only one scene, grew to become an integral part of the film's world and was usedin about a third of the movie, with English subtitles. The translation, which had to be done on-location, turned into a massive and intense project for Rudes. "I spent a month holed up in a hotel room, translating like crazy," he said.

The production company is turning over the scripts and language CD's to the descendants of the Powhatan Confederacy, five state-recognized tribes in Virginia. Rudes expects to be working with the tribes on language reclamation programs and is working on a dictionary of Virginia Algonquian with Helen Rountree, an authority on the history of the Powhatan people.

For the full press release, visit the UNCC publicity site below.]

Himachal Pradesh scholars trying to revive ancient Tankri script

By Rajiv Kimta

Kullu, Feb.9 (ANI): Tankri, once a full-fledged script of the Pahari language, spoken by people residing in the mountains, is being revived by the natives of Kullu. Many of these people are taking lessons to familiarise themselves with this ancient script. Many scholars are trying to revive the script and also salvage whatever they can of the ancient manuscripts.

"This Tankri script has suffered due to the 'language policy' of the British who accorded the status of official script and language to Urdu in their official administration. This made everyone clamour for the Urdu script schools and that was justified then as learning in Urdu language and script meant an assurance of a job. Soon after the introduction of Urdu in 1846 policy of the British, the Tankri script using schools closed down and people forgot this script," says Khub Ram Khushdil, a teacher at the workshop. Recently, a 10-day workshop was organised to acquaint people with the Tankri script and expose them to the ancient manuscripts, which use the script.

The students were informed about the language and how it has been neglected. The Tankri script once held sway in the mountains. Pahari, the extensively spoken language of Himachal Pradesh, especially in Kullu, Lahaul, Spiti, and Kangra, is of Sanskrit origin. Studies have revealed that people living in mountain areas in Himachal Pradesh, who are also known as "Pahari" used Tankri or Thakari. During the Muslim rule, later on, the Persian script came into fashion. Much later these dialects adopted the Devanagari script.

Linguists also say that during feudal times, Kullu literature was written in Tankri script and reached its peak in the 17th century. Khushdil says that in the pre-British times when the valley was still under princely rule, Tankri was the script of the royal courts. Tankri inscriptions are also found on slabs, temples and sculptures. One of the students, who delved deep into the history of the script has evolved a road-map for Tankri's revival.

"From the old course we have books and records which are related to the Ayurveda, herbs and medicines apart from many other things. Lots of these books are scripted in Tankri and so that makes the preservation and revival of this script so essential. We are planning to approach the Government of India's Mission Pandulipi (manuscript) project with our resources and for further promotion we shall adopt the Guru-Shishya (the ancient Teacher-Disciple equation) Parampara (tradition)," says Shashi Sharma, one of the students. For the students the 10-day long classes was a highly gratifying experience.

"I am so impressed that I have promised myself that I would peel every crust of disuse that has accumulated on this heritage script of ours and will try to help it to regain and keep it to its glory," said Deepak Sharma. There are 400 registered languages in India but Hindi in the Devanagari script is the official language. The Indian Constitution recognizes 17 regional languages, of which the most widely spoken are Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu , Malayalam, Kannada and Urdu. (ANI)

Lakota on Path to Recapture Language

PINE RIDGE, S.D., March 15 (AScribe Newswire) -- The Lakota Sioux language, made famous through its portrayal in the 1990 film "Dances with Wolves," is now one of only a small handful of Native American languages with enough remaining speakers to survive into the next generation, announced a major language organization. Lakota is currently one of the last major Native American language hold-outs in what is a worldwide crisis of linguistic extinctions.

To keep the Lakota language from disappearing completely, an ambitious revitalization campaign has been organized by a group of tribal leaders and linguists. The campaign is spearheaded by the nonprofit Lakota Language Consortium, which develops the Lakota-language teaching materials used in 23 area schools and which trains language teachers. The organization's goal is to encourage the use of the language by a new generation of speakers. Children using the group's language materials become proficient in Lakota by the fifth year of use.

The group plans to have a fully sequenced curriculum that students can follow from first grade through college.

The consortium's latest Level 2 textbook is currently being distributed to schools across Indian country. For Leonard Little Finger, the great-great-grandson of Chief Big Foot and one of the group's co-founders, the textbooks symbolize an important milestone for the Lakota. Little Finger notes that, "the effects of government policies were profoundly destructive to our language and our ability to pass it on to our children. These materials are so important because they are the first ever designed to raise children to speak Lakota. Not since before our great-grandparents were confined to the reservations, have we been allowed to raise our children speaking the language. As Lakotas, we will not let our language die, and these books give me hope that my grandchildren, at least, will have the privilege to speak their language."

Tribal elders and traditional leaders have made it a priority to keep the language alive for future generations. 81-year-old Clarence Wolf Guts, the last surviving Lakota code talker from WWII, points out that, "our people need to know that Lakota had an important position and to learn to be proud to speak Lakota. It is good that the kids are now learning Lakota in the schools." Oglala Sioux Tribe Vice-President, Alex White Plume, shares this opinion and explains that through the group's efforts, ³we are finally making some progress in teaching the language to the children.²

The group recently received the nation's leading language revitalization award, the Ken Hale Prize, from the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas. The consortium was distinguished for its outstanding community language work and deep commitment to the promotion and revitalization of Lakota. Still, the group's Linguistic Director, Jan Ullrich, points out that "revitalizing a language is no easy task and much more needs to be done to educate the public about the state of endangered languages and the needs of indigenous peoples." Ullrich concedes that Native American language loss is an enormous though silent crisis. "The fact is, few people know about the seriousness of the language crisis - that there are perhaps only a dozen languages that have a chance of surviving in the United States out of the original five hundred. When a language disappears, we lose an important record of our human experience - our linguistic heritage. Languages encompass a people's unique and irreplaceable songs, prayers, stories, and ways of seeing the world. Ninety percent of these repositories of knowledge will pass into oblivion unless we do something about it."

The organization's goal is to expand its revitalization efforts beyond the classroom and to more actively bring the language back into use within the community. They aim to provide incentives for young people to speak the language, to develop Lakota-language television programming, and to expand the literature available in the language.

They model their actions on the best practices of other successful language revival efforts from around the world. However, the group's Executive Director, Wilhelm Meya says that funding continues to be the primary obstacle to the return of the language, "government aid is almost nonexistent and there are very few grants available for endangered languages. Individual donations seem to be the only hope endangered languages like Lakota have."

Luckily, there are other people besides the Lakota themselves who want to see the language preserved. Meya explains that support for the group's effort has come from a number of less common sources such as German nonprofit organizations like the Tatanka Oyate Verein. "We have had to be creative to garner support for our efforts. It's very important that we succeed," Meya says. He also cites several other unique donors to the Lakota language, including the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation and Sioux Tools. Meya notes that the sports franchise, in particular, "is committed to helping the Lakota language and is a very proud supporter of our cause." Meya explains that individual donors have also played a significant role in helping language rescue efforts. One such donor, Jim Brown of Bemidji, Minnesota, is ardent about the need to support Lakota. He emphasizes, "it is my duty to do whatever I can to help Native American cultures survive. I'm very pleased to be part of this effort to keep the Lakota language alive and available to all of us."

The remaining Lakota speakers are acutely aware of the high cost of the potential loss of their language. Elmer Bear Eagle, a resident of Wounded Knee, remembers with fondness when most people still spoke Lakota and laments the current state of the language. As an extra in "Dances with Wolves," he was very glad to be able to speak Lakota in the film but observes that, "if we can't save our language soon, all of our children will need to read the subtitles in the movie, just like everybody else, to understand what it being said in Lakota. Then, we will have truly lost our uniqueness as Lakota people."

More details on the Lakota Language Consortium are available at:

CONTACT: Wilhelm K. Meya, Lakota Language Consortium,
812-340-3517, fax 812-857-4482,

Haunting songs of life and death reveal a fading world by Nicolas Rothwell,5744,18146439%255E5001986,00.html

o Songs, Dreamings and Ghosts: The Wangga of North Australia. Allan Marett, Wesleyan University Press, 292pp, $27.50

A GENERATION ago, when musicologist Allan Marett was beginning his fieldwork on the Aboriginal song-cycles of northern Australia, he was asked an intriguing question by a young indigenous man.

Why was traditional Aboriginal music - music of endless subtlety and beauty - not as highly valued as the Aboriginal paintings that Australians have come to view as potent emblems of national identity?

This book is Marett's attempt to provide an answer and to redress that imbalance. The most profound and detailed study of an indigenous musical genre yet attempted, it has been two decades in the making, and even before publication acquired a kind of legendary status among the small circle of experts addicted to the sounds of indigenous song. It is a specialist volume, yet it is written with a clear, cool passion.

It sets out the overwhelming evidence for the finesse and compositional craft of the Top End's song cycles and brings the master-singers of the region and their beliefs and experiences to vivid life. It deserves the widest possible attention, not just because Marett is the doyen of Australian ethnomusicologists, and this is his masterwork, but because the art form he seeks to anatomise is dying.

Aboriginal song is, of course, elusive: in its traditional form, it is sung in language, it is brief, coded, meshed with dance. It tends to be ceremonial in nature, and this has kept outsiders from disseminating its splendours to the wider world. For what do everyday Australians know, in truth, about indigenous music, other than the noise of the didge and the guitar chords of Treaty?

Marett turns his attention on the Aboriginal songmen of the Daly region, who live today gathered in the remote community of Wadeye, close to the Bonaparte Gulf, and at Belyuen, on the Cox peninsula opposite Darwin. Their key song cycles, the Wangga, take the form of sharp, jewel-like chants, accompanied by clap-stick and didgeridoo. Poetic in the extreme, filled with rhythms that summon up, like Western leitmotifs, whole worlds of association, these are musical slivers that make up a dictionary of the singer's world. Their core is religious: the Wangga are sung at times when the living and the dead draw together. They are often learned in dreams; and they plunge deep into the entwined fabric of the traditional domain. Marett picks apart several songs and unfurls the aspects of life they express: "The essential interconnectedness of the living and the dead through ceremony; the mutual responsibilities of the living to look after each other in everyday affairs; the exigencies of everyday life; and the intimate relationship that the living and the dead maintain with a sentient landscape".

The world revealed is one of infinitely varied songs and rhythms, swift, succinct, full of conviction.

Marett gives his readers a glimpse of the urgency with which these themes are perfected and performed: there are vignettes where he is scolded for using the wrong words in a practice singing session; at one point he turns in amazement from his chapter-length analysis of a single, minute-long snatch of music, staggered by the amount of submerged information it contains.

In his field years Marett became very close to several great song-masters from Belyuen, and he was planning to devote himself to the study of one of these figures, Bobby Lambudju Lane, a man at once gentle and voluble, Western-trained, literate, a fluent speaker of English and of his own traditional languages. Lane "had the rare capacity to speak the texts of songs and give their translations the moment he had finished singing".

He was, in short, the Homer of Wangga song, the man at the end of the tradition who could fix and read the music's mobile shards. But Lane died at 52, and, as Marett says bluntly, even though other singers have taken up his duties, "the tradition will probably never recover from this blow".

Much of Marett's book is devoted to examinations of Lane's work, above all a haunting, evanescent song from Badjalarr, a low-lying sandy islet that has become, in the imagination of the Belyuen people, a far-off, generalised land of the dead, although on our maps it is merely North Peron Island, a favourite weekend sports-fishing haunt for Darwin's boat-going class.

Lane's death has been duplicated many times across the north: the old songmen are dying in the Kimberley and in Arnhem Land, a curtain of silence and mass-consumption music is coming down. Hence the vital importance of this book as a guide to the power and fluidity of a traditional form.

Marett covers much ground: he shows how singers shift their songs to explain their relationship to country; how melodies relate to certain ancestor figures; how songs and dances set out social themes.

An astonishing idea lurks glinting in the closing pages of his work as he considers the depth and scale of the musical system being uncovered. Like many music scholars, he is intrigued by the ultimate questions: where did the music come from and what connections may exist between Aboriginal and Southeast Asian traditions?

The role of the Macassan traders who visited north Australia in contact times may well have been critical in spreading musical models. But, more broadly, Marett speculates that deeper study could well reveal "something startling" about north Australian music, namely that it forms a continuum, in its rhythmic organisation, with the music of the Middle East, Southeast Asia, India and Indonesia.

Such elusive, attractive ideas: but how can they be tested when the material is dying out? Marett is centrally involved in a new recording project, which is strongly supported by the surviving traditional songmen of the north. "My own experience," he says briskly, "is that most Aboriginal communities, at least in the north of Australia, want their music to be more widely disseminated and better understood."

At the recent Garma culture conference in northeast Arnhem Land, a clarion call was sent out in headline words: "Indigenous songs should be a deeply valued part of the Australian cultural heritage. They represent the great classical music of this land. These ancient traditions were once everywhere in Australia, and now survive as living traditions only in several regions. Many of these are now in danger of being lost forever. Indigenous performances are one of the most rich and beautiful forms of artistic expression, and yet they remain unheard and invisible."

It is this trend of eclipse and cultural extinction, tragically immediate and fast-advancing, that Marett's meticulous, pioneering work - at once tribute and testament - has been written to resist.

'Tis True: Irish Gaelic Still Charms
by Patricia Bellew Gray

The New York Times, March 12, 2006

EVERY Thursday afternoon in a chalk-dusty classroom at Yale University, seven students gather to learn Irish Gaelic, a language thought dead more than a century ago. Today's lesson is a flowery bouquet of endearments.

"Mo mhuir in" and "A chuisle mo chroi" translate to "love of my heart" and "O pulse of my heart" in English, and the class stumbles a bit over the unfamiliar phrases, but presses on.

"These are my commandos," Pat Whelan, their teacher, said with obvious pride. "The Irish language will never die so long as there is one person left in the world who yearns to hear the voices of our ancestors come alive."

The Irish language is enjoying a renaissance in the United States, part of an upsurge of interest in the music, history, dance and culture of Ireland. Connecticut is contributing to that revival, in part because of the thousands of residents whose parents, grandparents and great-grandparents emigrated from Ireland.

Longing for a link to their past, and undaunted by the challenges of a language more closely related to Breton - spoken in western France - than English, scores of people are attending weekly language classes in Fairfield, Milford, New Haven, Danbury and Glastonbury.

Indeed, so strong is demand that "our biggest challenge is in finding a qualified teacher," said Kathleen Thopsey, who organizes the language class at the Gaelic-American Club in Fairfield. Her club has been seeking a teacher for more than a year. Meanwhile, a half-dozen or so students there struggle to teach themselves pronunciation and shades of meaning from books and tapes.

So, like the itinerant teachers who roamed Ireland in the 1700's, Pat Whelan travels from city to city in Connecticut, teaching teenagers and adults Irish, along with a smattering of history, culture, politics, folklore, poetry and, if the mood strikes him, music.

Mr. Whelan has had little formal schooling. Born in Dublin, he dropped out of school at 14 and eventually emigrated to the United States. Now 69, he is semi-retired and living in Glastonbury.

He also isn't a native speaker of Irish. He learned the language as a boy at school. (Irish language studies are mandatory for school children in Ireland up to age 18, though the language is in common daily use only in a few isolated spots in the West, namely in Galway, Kerry and Donegal.)

Several years ago, Mr. Whelan took up the language again on a whim and found a calling.

"The language is very seductive," he said. "It is soft and musical, the language of romantics, and, if you are very lucky, it burrows right into your soul."

Gaelic Irish is among the most ancient of languages in Europe. Many scholars regard Irish-language literature as among the oldest continuous literary traditions in Western Europe; they trace its beginnings to the fifth century.

Thousands of manuscripts in Irish from the Middle Ages were preserved in monasteries and provide an extraordinary window on medieval times.

After Ireland was conquered by the British in the 1600's, the language began to fall from grace. English was the language of the bureaucracy.

Famine killed 1 million, mostly Irish speakers, in the 1840's. Millions more left for the United States, where the language was seen as a badge of shame, a vocal marker of the ragged, uneducated poor. Today, according to Irish government estimates, the number of native speakers in Ireland range from 100,000 to 250,000, most of them in the Gaeltacht, a term for Irish-speaking communities in western Ireland.

Among the students in Mr. Whelan's class, which is part of a community program held at Yale, is Victoria A. Farrell, 17, a high school junior from Beacon Falls. She began studying Ireland's legends and myths a few years ago for various school projects and, as a result, developed a keen interest in the language. This is her first year of lessons. "Irish is harder to learn than French or Spanish, but I love it for what it tells me about my culture," she said.

On this bitter winter afternoon at Yale, Mr. Whelan's students will learn a great deal about the culture. For instance, Mr. Whelan said, the Irish language has no simple word for "yes" or "no," though it does have negative sentence constructions.

"I have a theory about that," Mr. Whelan said. "Think of it: Nothing shuts down a conversation faster than a flat 'no' or a 'yes,' and there's nothing quite so beautiful as the music of good conversation to the Irish."

So, a student challenged Mr. Whelan, how would a girl tell an unwelcome suitor that she will not marry him? She would say, in Gaelic, of course: "'Tis a fine husband you would make, I am sure, but I will not marry you,'" he said.

Nor do older Irish usually use a greeting as abrupt as "Hello." Mr. Whelan has a theory about that, too. Not only does the English word sound too short to be amiable, it makes no mention of God.

Gaelic Irish is a very spiritual language, he said. In greeting someone, the Irish speaker might say "Dia dhuit" or "Bail o Dhia ar an obair," which translate to "God be with you" and "God's blessing on the work." Irish is "a language with a very optimistic view of the world," Mr. Whelan said to his students. Therefore, he said, "in Irish, 'I am sad' would be 'Ta bron orm' or, more literally, 'I have sadness upon me.' That's because we believe that our sadness can and will be lifted from us. It is not necessarily a part of us."

Mr. Whelan's students are part of a trend that is also gaining momentum across the country. The poet Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill of Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin calls the language "the corpse that sits up and talks back."

These days, that corpse is engaged in coast-to-coast chatter. Daltaí na Gaeilge, a non-profit advocacy group for the language in Elberon, N.J., estimated that about 30,000 speak the language in the United States, up from a few thousand when the organization was founded in 1981.

Irish is also turning up at some colleges. At the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., 297 students are enrolled this winter in classes to learn Irish, up more than sixfold since 1998. Dozens more were turned away because the classes had become too large.

Sacred Heart University in Fairfield is developing an Irish studies minor that will include language classes. Two years ago, the university opened a satellite campus in Dingle, Ireland, where it sends students for immersion in the language and culture.

The federal government's Fulbright Program also recently announced it would invite three Irish-language instructors to teach at universities starting in the fall.

The once-abandoned language is now seen as very trendy, said Brian O'Conchubhair, assistant professor of Irish language and literature at Notre Dame. "Ethnicity is in vogue."

For some students, though, learning the language is less a novelty and more a journey. Steve Hultgren, 53, a computer engineer from Middletown, has been taking classes for a year at the Irish American Community Center in New Haven. His last name is Swedish, but deep in his past he is quite sure there are some Celts.

"I feel at strangely at home in this language," he said. "It is difficult to learn, but I feel I am reconnecting with my heritage in a very meaningful way."

Indigenous Languages in Final Throes
by Diego Cevallos

Published on Friday, April 14, 2006 by Inter Press Service

MEXICO CITY - Hundreds of languages disappeared from Latin America and the Caribbean over the past 500 years, and many of the more than 600 that have survived could face the same fate in the not-so-distant future. United Nations agencies and many experts maintain that it is an avoidable tragedy, but there are those who see it as the inherent fate of all but a few languages.

Faced with Western culture and the dominant presence of Spanish, Portuguese and English in the Americas, indigenous languages like Kiliwua in Mexico, Ona and Puelche in Argentina, Amanayé in Brazil, Záparo in Ecuador and Mashco-Piro in Peru, are just barely surviving, the result of their continued use by small groups of people -- most of whom are elderly.

But there are others like Quichua, Aymara, Guaraní, Maya and Náhuatl whose future looks a bit rosier, because overall these languages are spoken by more than 10 million people and governments support their survival through various educational, cultural and social programmes.

Around the globe there are some 7,000 languages in use, but each year 20 disappear. Furthermore, half of the existing languages are threatened, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). This agency, which promotes the preservation and diversity of the world's languages, maintains that the disappearance of even one language is a tragedy, because with it go a unique culture and cosmo-vision.

But not everyone sees it that way. "The extinction of languages is a phenomenon inherent in their very existence, and it has been happening since humans emitted their first sound with a linguistic meaning," José Luis Moure, a University of Buenos Aires philologist and member of the Argentine Academy of Letters, told Tierramérica.

In contrast, Gustavo Solís, a Peruvian linguist with expertise in vernacular and author of language studies of the Amazon region, says "there is nothing in the languages that says one should disappear and another should continue."

"Every disappearance of language and culture is a great tragedy to humanity. When it occurs, a unique and irreplaceable human experience is extinguished," Solís said in a conversation with Tierramérica.

There are cases, says this expert, that show it is possible to plan the revitalisation of languages so they won't die, but such efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean fall short. When the Europeans arrived in the Americas in the 15th century, there were 600 to 800 languages in South America alone, but with the colonisation process "the vast majority disappeared. Today there are languages on their way to extinction because of the unequal contact between Western society and some indigenous societies," Solís said.

Fernando Nava, director of Mexico's National Institute of Indigenous Languages (INALI), said languages disappear through natural evolution, which is understandable, or through cultural pressure and discrimination against its speakers, which is preventable. It is the second cause that many governments, international agencies and academics are fighting, because it is considered an unacceptable phenomenon, Nava told Tierramérica.

In this area, Latin America and the Caribbean are just in the stage of raising awareness, he added.

According to UNESCO, half of the languages existing in the world today could be lost within "a few generations", due to their marginalisation from the Internet, cultural and economic pressures, and the development of new technologies that favour homogeneity. In May, the UN agency will publish an extensive study about the languages of the Amazon region, many of them spoken by very few individuals. The study is a bid to draw international attention to their plight.

Surviving in the Amazon jungles are isolated indigenous groups, who refuse to have contact with the Western world and its "progress". They total around 5,000 people belonging to various groups of the Amazon Basin, among them the Tagaeri in Ecuador, Ayoreo in Paraguay, Korubo in Brazil and the Mashco-Piro and Ashaninka in Peru.

According to Rodolfo Stavenhagen, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights and basic freedoms of indigenous peoples, these groups are facing "a true cultural genocide". "I fear that under current circumstances it will be difficult for them to survive many more years, because so-called development denies the right of these peoples to continue being peoples," he said.

Although the list of languages and dialects in use worldwide is very long, the vast majority of the population speaks only a handful of languages, like English, Chinese, and Spanish. To ensure that linguistic diversity is maintained, the international community agreed in recent years on a series of legal instruments, and experts hold regular meetings to discuss the issues.

One such meet took place Mar. 31 to Apr. 2 in the western U.S. state of Utah, where officials and academics from across the Americas studied ways to prevent the disappearance of dozens of languages in this hemisphere. Since 1999, through a UNESCO initiative, Feb. 21 is celebrated as International Mother Language Day. There are also agreements in the UN system, like the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and its Action Plan, from 2001, and the Convention on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage, signed in 2003.

Also dating from 2003 is the Recommendation on the Promotion and Use of Multingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace, and from 2005 the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions. The Argentine expert Moure says it is important to work towards preserving languages, even when the number of speakers is small, because "they are markers of identity that merit maximum respect and scientific attention."

But "I am not so sure that the death of a language necessarily means the disappearance of the associated cosmo-vision, because its speakers never stop talking (unless they themselves disappear through disease or genocide), but rather, after a period of bilingualism, they adopt another language that is more useful to them because of its greater insertion in the world," he said "This a fact of reality, and I believe it should be recognised without turning to excessive conspiracy theories," said Moure. Copyright © 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service