I’ve written previously on the important subject of Language Death. Every few weeks, the last speaker of a world language dies and with it, the whole inheritance/consciousness of a world’s people. We are so much less without that language — Wade Davis, a Nat. Geographic ethnographer and ethnopharmacologist passionately outlines why we should “care” and why we should cry out against this ethnocide. Here’s an old presentation of mine, outlining the dire state of the world’s 6,000 or so recorded languages.
But there are success stories. Hebrew, raised from the dead and dark halls of religious studies to become a people’s everyday tongue. Wopanaak – reclaimed after its last speaker died years before – an indigenous language in Massachusetts. Also, Saami, in the far north of Scandanavia. Now with TV stations and radio programs.
And today I read about this Indonesian tribe without a writing system which is now using the Korean alphabet, “hanguel” as their transcription method (see below). Hangeul is a jewel and it is well suited with helping keep these oral languages, so under thread, alive. I’m really happy to see this happening and my hat goes off to all those linguists working for pennies in a very unrecognized portion of our field, working in a life and death way…….
This is an amazing article I read years ago in Harper’s Magazine about why we should save the small languages……let’s all do what we can. Even as we teach English and contribute to the pull from indigenous language – we can still “tread softly” and leave a small footprint……
Indonesian Tribe Picks ‘Hangeul’ as Writing System
By Park Si-soo
A minority tribe in Indonesia has decided to use the Korean alphabet, Hangeul, as its official writing system, a Korean language research institute said Thursday.
This is the first case of Hangeul becoming an official tool for communications outside Korean territory, the institute said.
“A tribe in the city of Bauer and Bauer in Sulawesi has selected Hangeul as the official alphabet to transcribe its native language that has no writing system,” the Hunminjeongeum Research Institute said in a statement. “The tribe with a population of 60,000 was on the verge of losing its language due to a lack of tool to hand it down to its descendants.”
According to the institute, since last month, dozens of children in the tribe have learned, on a regular basis, how to write, read, and pronounce the Korean alphabet based on a textbook provided by the institute. Another 140 high school students in the city have recently followed suit, it added.
The textbook written in Korean tells about the tribe’s history, language and culture.
“Among the contents of the book is a Korean fairy tale,” it said.
The Indonesian city government plans to set up an institute next month to encourage other tribes in its vicinity to adopt Hangeul as their writing system.
This adoption came nearly one year after the Korean institute signed a memorandum of understanding with the city for the use of Hangeul as an official communications tool.
Linguists here hailed the decision, raising hopes that this will lead to Korean becoming an international language like English.
“It will be a meaningful case in history if the Indonesian tribe succeed in maintaining its aboriginal language with the help of Hangeul,” said Prof. Kim Joo-won of Seoul National University who has initiated the landmark project. “In the long run, the spread of Hangeul will also help enhance Korea’s economy as it will activate exchanges with societies that use the alphabet.”
Prof. Lee Ho-young of Seoul National University, who penned the textbook, said “I hope the case will serve as a meaningful opportunity to show off the excellence of Hangeul overseas.”