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Endangered Languages, Knowledge Systems and Belief Systems


David Hirsh

Many of the world’s 7000 documented language groups are endangered due to falling rates of language and culture transmission from one generation to the next. Some endangered language groups have been the focus of efforts to reverse patterns of linguistic and cultural loss, with variable success. This book presents case studies of endangered language groups from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific (including Bisu, Iban, Iquito, Quechua, Wawa, Yi and sign languages) and of their associated knowledge and belief systems, to highlight the importance of preserving linguistic and cultural diversity. Issues of identity and pride emerge within the book, alongside discussion of language and culture policy.


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1. Introduction 9


1. Introduction In 2012, I visited an enclave language community in the north of Thailand as part of a research visit to the region. The village had been involved in a language revitalization program for a number of years. I heard from village elders in the community of several hundred individuals of their pride in their heritage language, and of their pride in their cultural traditions. I also heard from the elders of the centrality of their spiritual beliefs to their way of life. For this enclave community, efforts to revitalize their heritage language needed to recognize that their language was not an isolated entity, but rather, it provided a means for the community members to retain their knowledge, beliefs and traditional way of life. This language community and many other minority language communities in Asia, the Americas, Africa, Europe and the Pacific are struggling to retain their traditional way of life, traditional values and traditional customs in the face of threats presented through contact with more dominant languages and cultures. This book reports on some of these communities to highlight the status of the world’s endangered languages, and the knowledge and belief systems held within languages. 1.1. Endangered languages Michael Krauss, the American linguist credited with highlighting the plight of the world’s endangered languages, issued a warning in his address to the Linguistic Society of America held in 1991, that “over half of the world’s 6,000 languages will not survive our children’s generation. Can we protect our cultural...

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