In June 2019, Aldean Channer, the Conservative councillor for Llanrwst, North Wales, claimed that efforts to translate road signs into Welsh were a waste of public money.
At Bubbles Translation, we would always take issue with a statement like this, no matter how niche the language in question is. Our disapproval is justified when you consider that as many as 60 per cent of Llanrwst residents actually speak Welsh.
Mr Channer had defended his statement by saying only two per cent of the town spoke Welsh and that “English is the mother tongue of the UK”.
In this article, we’ll make the case for why all languages should be protected, no matter how niche they are.
- Ainu – this endangered Japanese dialect is one of the rarest spoken languages in the world today. The language is spoken by inhabitants of the Hokkaido island of Japan. Ainu has no clear genealogical relationship to other languages. There are 300 speakers and only 15 of those are fluent.
- Tausiro – spoken in an isolated region of Peru, the Tausiro language can be found in the region of the tributary of the Ahuarana River. The language has all but died out, with just one fluent speaker remaining as of 2008. The slow decline of this language came to pass after other speakers married non-Tausiro speakers and, in the process, switched to other languages with Spanish roots.
- Tolowa – another endangered language with just one speaker left, as of 2008. This Native American tribal language was spoken in the Smith River Rancheria, California.
Keeping niche languages alive preserves cultural history
Why is it important to keep these dying languages alive in the modern day? The story of Yahi, the ‘last wild Native American’, shows us the value of preserving language. In 1911, Yahi was discovered in the Californian foothills foraging for food. He had lived many years surviving on his own after the genocide of his tribe.
After he was discovered, Yahi was studied at a nearby museum where the director Alfred L. Kroeber spent years interviewing him to learn about the culture of his tribe – learning how they made tools and other culturally significant items. During this time together, Kroeber was able to piece together much of the Yahi people’s culture. If Yahi had died before his discovery, none of this would have been possible and Yahi’s people’s culture and language would have died out completely, and we would be none the wiser.
Keeping niche languages alive gives speakers a unique advantage
When Pope Benedict XVI resigned in 2013, the reporter who first broke the story did so because she was able to understand the Latin that the speech was delivered in. Latin is often regarded as a crucial root language to most modern European languages, yet so few people actually understand it today.
This just proves why Latin is still an important and valuable language in the 21st century, despite the cries of school children who see no point in learning a dead language. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can certainly teach a new generation much from an old language.
Keeping niche languages alive helps us understand the past
So-called ‘dead languages’ are those that are not passed on as the mother tongue from parents to children, but rather those that have to be taught and practised in more artificial settings. Examples of these surviving niche languages that are spoken by academics and language hobbyists include Latin, Aramaic and Sumerian.
By continuing to keep these languages alive, we are able to understand history more fully and keep a record of the civilisations that came before us. As the old saying goes, those who ignore history are destined to repeat it.
Did you know there’s a niche language right here in the UK?
Cornish is a niche language, spoken mostly in the county of Cornwall. A 2008 survey by the Cornish Language Strategy Project estimated that around 2,000 people are fluent in the language, which underwent a renaissance in the early 20th century. It all began when Celtic language scholar and Cornish cultural activist Henry Jenner published “A Handbook of The Cornish Language”.
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