23/01/2009

my words are my deeds


I read this article this morning, about how the last speaker of a Native American language has passed away thus the language is now extinct. All I could think was how sad that is. The world has lost something valuable - so much of that people would of been held in the words they used and now its gone.

It got me thinking about all sorts of things. I love travelling but I rarely learn more then a few words of the local language (if that) before I go anywhere. Which is a lazy and arrogant thing to do, I know. I just assume that someone, where ever I'm going, will know how to speak English and help me out. More often then not they do, in Japan people bent over backwards to try and point me in the right direction. I did learn to say "I am vegetarian" which I was proud of! People are very kind the world over - but I can't help but feel that globalisation is leading to the loss of so many languages, cultures and customs. Which surely is one of the reasons to travel in the first place.

I'm fluent in two languages, English and Bengali - I can understand a little Hindi and Urdu too - (Thank you Bollywood). Because of school I speak a tiny bit of French very badly (often hurting the ears of native speakers) and my Latin isn't what it used to be. Anyone who is bilingual knows the advantages, when one language fails to express what you are trying to say the other can compensate. E finds it funny that I always speak to my Mum in Bengali and my Dad and English - despite them both being totally able to understand me either way. The voice in my head speaks English but I know theirs must speak Bengali. 

Should I have kids (heaven help them) I know they'll speak English there first language and learn something in school but will they want to learn Bengali? Would my grandchildren?
There are people I know with the same background as me who can't speak a word of it and think that's perfectly fine, I'm sure it works for them but it is a mind set I find hard to understand. Being Bilingual is such a part of who I am that I can't imagine only having one language to draw from.

I mean at the moment there are millions of us Bengali speakers out there - so that language isn't about to vanish (250 million speakers I think!) but eventually it will be lost to my branch of the family and that saddens me. I feel like a piece of my heritage will disappear one day and that is a sad truth. 

8 comments:

  1. Well said and written. Language is an important part of our culture and tradition. As a Norwegian, I am worried too.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Language is an amazing thing. By learning a language you can gain insights into another culture.
    It's amazing the work being done in Ireland to ensure the irish language is being kept alive...

    ReplyDelete
  3. That article was really interesting. It said part of the reason that that language died out was because of the spread of English, which you discussed. But the other reason was 'competition from the Tlingit tribe' (of which I am!) But the Tlingit language is dying out as well. Most of the people fluent in the language are old and don't have great memories or their language is difficult to decipher and understand or can't write in Tlingit. There's been a surge of people fighting for the Tlingit language, including my aunt, who still lives in Alaska takes a Tlingit language class and is keen to pass the language to her children. I find it sad that I will never have that opportunity.

    I am impressed that you learned 'I'm a vegetarian' in any language.

    Interesting post. (sorry I haven't responded to any of your emails!)

    ReplyDelete
  4. RennyBA - Glad I'm not the only one

    E - I think you should teach me more Irish

    Michelle - I did think of you when I read the article! It is awful that Tlingit is dying out too. I hope that it doesn't and that it continues to be passed down. always good to hear from you.

    ReplyDelete
  5. That is really sad, losing a language.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I understand where you're coming from, but I have to say I don't feel the same way about languages that die. Language is a tool, nothing more and nothing less. If the tool is no longer needed, then so be it. It's not as if other languages won't in time compensate for any emotion or expression lost with a dying language - that's the beauty of language, it's a living thing and it evolves.

    I don't learn the language of the places I visit either. I speak 3 languages fluently and a handful of others well enough to get by on holiday. However good you are with the spoken word, there comes a time when it's not possible to learn more every time you travel :-)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Language, linguistics, is always evolving and changing. Still, it's sad to see part of someone's culture slip away.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I understand what you mean and do think it is a shame that we do not try more, but somehow we always have an excuse, we are too busy to learn, I don't use it enough to remember it, I know the universal language, etc.

    ReplyDelete