Read This: “Vanishing Voices”

What is lost when a language goes silent?

Today, I suggest that you set aside fifteen minutes to read National Geographic‘s new article, “Vanishing Voices” by Russ Rymer. It’s an elegant and fascinating read that explores many of the questions surrounding endangered languages: why do some small languages die, while others manage to soldier steadily on? Which facets of any language are untranslatable and/or invaluable, and what insight could they offer? Why does it matter?

Rymer doesn’t answer all the questions he brings up — nobody could — but he does an excellent job of highlighting the state of the field and the many factors at play, using a complex fact- and story-based narrative. I’ve rambled about this topic before, and I can only hope to express my thoughts as cogently as he has, someday. While I come pre-equipped with vehement interest in this topic, I suspect that his article might be able to spark interest in even the most indifferent reader.

He focuses on three main groups of people, all of whom speak an endangered and/or small language: the Tuvan of Siberia, the Aka of India, and the Seri of Mexico. Read More