Enduring Voices

Did you know that the world loses a language every 14 days?
Just think of all the knowledge and cultural beauty that must be slipping away every
two weeks! To combat this devastating trend, the National Geographic Society,
in conjunction with the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, has
developed a project to document and preserve the world’s linguistic diversity.
The project, called Enduring
, travels to every corner of the globe, creating an enormous
database of endangered languages. They’ve even produced an interactive
accessible online, that shows global “hotspots” where languages
are most threatened of becoming extinct.

What’s the value of linguistic diversity, you ask? Wouldn’t
it be much more convenient, and perhaps even more peaceful, if everyone on the
planet spoke one, universal language? It turns out language and linguistic
diversity are important for several reasons. Language is used to construct and
create catalogues of knowledge about local history, culture, and environments.
Often times, specific knowledge and concepts cannot meaningfully be dissociated
from the host languages themselves, or simply translated into new languages.
Therefore, a lack of linguistic diversity can actually obstruct conceptual diversity. As a tool for
constructing knowledge, language also helps scientists learn about the
functioning of the human brain (humans, of course, are unique in their capacity
for language). Like many things, though, it is often only after a language is lost and forgotten that its true importance is
realized. Check out the Enduring
website to learn more about language and for a glossary of
linguistic terms.

Here’s one quote from the website that I found particularly
interesting: “Language defines a culture,
through both the people who speak it and what it allows speakers to say.”

Do you agree that language defines a culture?

My first reaction was that language is not the only thing
that defines a culture. My grandmother, for example, immigrated to the United States at the turn of the century from
what was then part of the Persian Empire (currently northwestern Iran–click here for a map and more details about the Assyrians). Flash forward to today, and I lack the ability to spit out
even one sentence in her native Assyrian tongue. Despite
my linguistic handicap, I still feel connected to her culture in many ways.
From food, to games, to moral values and cultural practices; there are many
links that bind me to my Assyrian past. Then again, are they anything without
language? Would the rich, soul-warming stew I’ve grown to know as “khurush”
really be any different than any other rich, soul-warming stew if it did not
have its distinct Assyiran title? I don’t know. It’s a tough question to answer.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions!



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