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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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8. Preserving cultural identity 119


8. Preserving cultural identity The preceding chapters of this book have highlighted the role of language, knowledge systems and belief systems for indigenous groups in various geographical settings in the world. This chapter considers the significance of these three dimensions of cultural expression on individual and collective identity. 8.1. Cultural identity Construction of cultural identity has been examined in an African setting. Tchindjang, Bodpa and Ngamgne (2008) view language in terms of its role in the construction of cultural identities. They see language as a means for people to collectively express their heritage, their soul, and their spirit. Language symbolizes collective thought and collective expression, passed from one generation to the next. It is a source of knowledge, a source of beliefs, and a source of identity. In this context, language loss threatens the survival of cultural identities and cultural diversity. Language is also broadly linked to self- determination and rural development. There is a call for educational reform which enables students to construct their social identities, master their mother tongue, and discover their history and the accomplishments of their ancestors. Literacy programs should be designed around practical learning which can benefit people, providing a means to learn about first aid, sanitation and soil enrichment. Literacy can be a means to develop expertise in managing water, soil and food supplies. Benton (2007) reflects on the nature of MƗori identity, suggesting that it is strongly associated with Whanaungatanga (sense of relationship through shared ancestry). There is a strong 120 identification...

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