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Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
1st September 2008

After some delay due to a backlog of other "Top 10s", my promised article entitled Top 10 Endangered Languages appeared on the Guardian website on Tuesday last week. It has been attracting some attention and comment. Several things seem to have happened to the article in the blogosphere:

  1. the content was copied whole (with citation) by a number of bloggers - here, here
  2. only part of the content attracted the attention of some bloggers, eg. Ainu here and here, Ket here, Yuchi here, the loss of cultural heritage here and the parameters I adopted to help me choose here
  3. Claire Bowern was prompted to come up with her own list of Top 10 endangered languages on her Anggarrgoon blog
  4. David Crystal mentioned it on his blog which resulted in a comment linking to Claire's list, and a snappy commentary on Claire's choice of Mapundungun as an endangered language
  5. it was listed on Deliggit.com, which claims to track "the social sites most interesting urls"
  6. it was dug (digged?) on Digg, with 1059 diggs and 154 comments so far. It is currently on the first page of Digg, which is apparently a cool place to be.

Some of the comments on the Digg page will be familiar to anyone who has tried to discuss endangered languages with predominantly English-speaking members of the general public: "let 'em all die", "death is a sign of progress", "proper English is an endangered language", and so on. A few are more positive, with a number urging documentation for the future. It is interesting to see that despite there being a whole slew of popular books on the topic published since 2000, members of the general public, or the people who use Digg at least, remain quite uninformed about endangered language issues.

I guess we can but keep on trying by publishing things like a Top 10 list when the opportunity arises, as it did for me last month.

Post script: My colleague, David Hughes from the SOAS Music Department, is currently in Japan and wrote me as follows when he saw the Guardian posting:

"there have been two articles about young Ainu musicians in the paper in the past ten days or so. These musicians are trying hard to learn to sing in Ainu (while understanding the meaning, of course, not just mouthing the sounds). As in Okinawa in the south music is one important mechanism for encouraging language learning among the young, BUT only if that music is sufficiently popular or at least not scorned among the majority populace. Okinawan music is very popular and relatively prestigious; Ainu music, not yet, but the smallish popularity of performers like Oki (half-Ainu, didn't know it till he was an adult, had to learn the language), or the Ainu Rebels, will help young Ainu get interested.

For a sample of this new music take a look at the video of Toko Emi's haunting Ainu song "yay-sama" from her album Upopo.

The role of popular music in language revitalisation in Australia and elsewhere has been noted before.

Comments

> It has been attracting
> some attention and comment.

And not just in English. I've just blogged about it in Esperanto, a community uncommonly aware of language diversity and linguistic human rights.

Blogged about in Esperanto - neat! There's also this in Japanese.

A Google blog search turns up 34 posts, and a more general Google search returns over 2,800 websites, however quite a number of these just repeat or link to the original content from the Guardian website.

Still, not bad coverage for endangered languages, I reckon.

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The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.
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