The Taylorian is known for its collections on Modern European Languages, be it East- or West-European. Apart from the main collections including German, French, Russian, Polish to mention a few, the Taylorian also houses less well known collections on minority languages, such as Welsh and Breton within the Celtic section or Occitan and Yiddish. To familiarise a wider audience with these ‘hidden treasures’ of the Taylorian, the seminar series ‘Introducing Endangered Languages’ was organised in Michaelmas Term 2015. The seminars were kindly given by Oxford specialists.
Prof. Mary Dalrymple gave an introduction to language endangerment in the first seminar and paid special attention to a critically endangered language Dusner in West Papua with only three speakers left. Some of the questions she discussed were :
How many Languages are there? What constitutes a language?
The total number of languages in the world can only be estimated at around 7000. It is difficult to be certain, and it depends on what counts as a language. E.g. is Chinese one language or are Mandarin, Cantonese and other dialects regarded as separate languages? And is Arabic one language or does Egyptian Arabic count as a separate language? Assuming Chinese is one language, than it is the most spoken language in the world with more than a billion speakers. Second comes Spanish, followed by English. Here is a list of most spoken languages from the Ethnologue.
When is a language endangered?
Interestingly, 94% of the world population speaks only 6% of the world languages, so most people speak a main stream language as their first language. This also means that 6% of the world population speaks 94% of the world languages, so each of these languages have relatively small numbers of speakers. Numbers of speakers may vary: 10.000, 1000, 100 or even just 10 first language speakers. Over 300 languages have no first language speakers at all, all speakers are bilingual and use the minority language only in certain ‘domains’ e.g. home and family, whereas the major language may be used at school, work etc. Many of these languages without first language speakers are at risk to be ‘overtaken’ by the mainstream language.
Most users of the Taylorian will have heard of European minority languages, such as Breton or Frisian, although languages like Friulian or Istro-Romanian are less well known. Most countries in Europe can be proud of having one or a few minority languages spoken within their borders. In terms of ‘language density’ however Europe is fairly ‘poor’, other regions in the world may have many more languages within one country. One of the most densely ‘languaged’ regions is South-East Asia. It is assumed that there are at least 1000 minority languages in Papua New Guinea alone, many of which have not even been documented. In the language-rich province of West-Papua in Indonesia there is a language on the brink of dying out: Dusner, an Austronesian language, only spoken by three people over 60. Fortunately, Prof. Dalrymple was just in time to meet them in April 2011. Flying out in a hurry to West-Papua after Dr Mofu had discovered Dusner, she then travelled to the idyllic village of Dusner that can only be reached by boat.
Together with Dr Mofu who holds a D.Phil. from Oxford, she interviewed these last speakers to record their language. The Dusner speakers are featured below (from the project website http://dusner.clp.ox.ac.uk/). For those interested in the sound of Dusner, the website holds audio recordings of the interviews.
These interviews were the basis of a language documentation project which resulted in the publication of the first grammar of Dusner (by Mary Dalrymple & Suriel Mofu).
Small languages like Dusner are really valuable from a linguistic point of view, since they often maintain the more complex linguistic constructions, whereas major languages will have been simplified to make them easier to acquire by adults. English is an example of a language that simplified over time. For example In Anglosaxon there were different verbal endings as in helpe, hilpst, hilpƥ, helpaƥ, helpe, helpen (present tense of helpan ‘to help’) whereas in Modern English there are only two forms in the present: help, helps.
A remarkable feature of Dusner is the number system: it is a base five system, this means that there are separate words for one, two, three, four and five but six is expressed as ‘five one’ and seven as ‘five two’. Ten is a new word, eleven is ‘ten one’ and sixteen is expressed as ‘ten five one’.
The grammar is the only one book on Dusner ever published and this is held in the Bodleian. The Taylorian holds a good collection on endangered languages more in general, the list of recommended resources can be found below.
I’m grateful to Prof. Dalrymple for letting me use her slides and for giving me permission to use the table of Dusner numbers and the two tables on numbers of speakers, both based on information from Ethnologue.
Johanneke Sytsema, Linguistics Librarian
Dalrymple, Mary and Suriel Mofu (2012) Dusner. Muenchen : Lincom Europa
Closed Stack M12.F01716
Florey, Margaret J (2010) Endangered languages of Austronesia. Oxford : Oxford University Press.
Closed Stack M09.E12948
De Dominicis, Amedeo (2006). Undescribed and endangered languages : the preservation of linguistic diversity. Newcastle-upon-Tyne : Cambridge Scholars.
Closed Stack. Also online through SOLO.
Crystal, David (2014). Language Death. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.
Taylor Institution Library Linguistics Collection P40.5.L33 CRY 2014
Harris, K.D. (2007) When Languages Die. The extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge. Oxford: OUP.
Taylor Institution Library Teaching Collection P.40.5.L33 HAR 2007
Evans, Nicholas (2010). Dying words : endangered languages and what they have to tell us. Chichester, U.K. ; Malden, MA : Wiley-Blackwell.
Taylor Institution Library Linguistics Collection P40.5.E53 EVA 2009.
Fishman, Joshua A. (1991). Reversing language shift : theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages. Clevedon : Multilingual Matters.
Taylor Institution Library Linguistics Collection ALN.8000.A.45
Fishman, Joshua A (2001). Can threatened languages be saved? : reversing language shift, revisited : a 21st century perspective. Clevedon : Multilingual Matters.
Bodleian Library Lower Gladstone Link Open Shelves (UBHU) M01.F01417.
Gordon, Raymond G. (2005). Ethnologue : languages of the world. Dallas, SIL International.
Closed Stack M05.D01883.
Miyaoka, Osahito, Osamu Sakiyama and Michael E. Krauss (2007) The vanishing languages of the Pacific rim. Oxford : Oxford University.
Taylor Institution Library Linguistics Collection P381.P3 VAN 2007
Nettle, Daniel & Suzanne Romaine (2000) Vanishing Voices: the extinction of the world’s languages.Oxford: OUP.
Taylor Institution Library Teaching Collection P40.5.L33 NET 2000
Thomason, Sarah Grey & Verónica María (2015)Endangered languages : an introduction
Taylor Institution Library Teaching Collection P40.5.E53 THO 2015
Tsunoda, Tasaku (2006). Language endangerment and language revitalization : an introduction. Berlin : Mouton de Gruyter.
Taylor Institution Library Teaching Collection P40.5 L28 TSU 2004
Wurm, S. A.& Theo Baumann (1996). Atlas of the world’s languages in danger of disappearing. Paris : Unesco ; Canberra : Pacific Linguistics.
Bodleian Library Weston RBMSS Open Shelves G1.B1.53 Maps.
Moseley, Christopher & R.E. Asher (1994). Atlas of the world’s languages. London : Routledge.
Taylor Institution Library (Graduate Studies Room) L.ATL.B.AA.4
(See also the online interactive version http://www.unesco.org/languages-atlas/index.php)
Moseley, Christopher & Alexandre Nicolas (2010) Atlas of the world’s languages in danger. 3rd ed. Paris : United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
Taylor Institution Library Linguistics Collection P40.5.L33 ATL 2010
Moseley, Christopher (2012). The UNESCO atlas of the world’s languages in danger : context and process. Cambridge : World Oral Literature Project.
Everett, Daniel Leonard (2009). Don’t sleep, there are snakes : life and language in the Amazonian jungle. London : Profile.
Closed Stack M09.G01855
Abley, Mark (2005).Spoken here : travels among threatened languages. London : Arrow Books.
Taylor Institution Library Teaching Collection P40.5.L33 ABL 2005
Drysdale, Helena.(2002). Mother tongues : travels through tribal Europe. London : Picador.
Closed Stack M02.G02997
Foundation for Endangered Languages http://www.ogmios.org/bibliography/index.php
The Endangered Languages Project. A project to support language preservation and documentation around the world by the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity.The catalogue contains information on 3228 languages. Includes interactive map. http://www.endangeredlanguages.com
SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) http://www.sil.org/about/endangered-languages (includes interactive map and list of publications)