MotherTongues: Wear Words, Celebrate Cultures

about words, languages, cultures, travel

Endangered cultures, endangered languages March 19, 2013

Do you know that of the approximately 7000 languages in the world (according to SIL International’s Ethnologue database), about 2500 are considered endangered languages by UNESCO?

Wade Davis is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, and he has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.” In a 2003 TED talk, he talks about the endangered cultures that he has had the privilege to spend time with. He says that “only the rhythm of our dances are different”, that we have so much in common even though our way of living looks so much different. One of my favorite quotes from this TED talk is: A language is not just a body of vocabulary or a set of grammatical rules. … Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind.

Wade Davis laments the fact that languages are dying; that a lot of endangered languages are not taught to babies anymore.

“What could be more lonely than to be enveloped in silence, to be the last of your people to speak your native tongue, to have no way to pass on the wisdom of the elders, to anticipate the promise of the children. This tragic fate is indeed the plight of someone somewhere roughly every two weeks.”

About cultures, and what we do to each other in the name of “development”, he says: “Genocide, the physical extinction of a people, is universally condemned, but ethnocide, the destruction of people’s way of life, is not only not condemned, it’s universally celebrated as part of a development strategy.”

As I research words for MotherTongues products, I come across many words from endangered languages. Maybe preserving it on a t-shirt or in an app, the words and their unique meanings will be with us a little longer.

Watch this Wade David TED talk and let me know what you think!



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