Norwegian-financed UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger

photo UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger is intended to raise awareness about language endangerment and the need to safeguard the world’s linguistic diversity among policy-makers, speaker communities and the general public, and to be a tool to monitor the status of endangered languages and the trends in linguistic diversity at the global level.

The latest edition of the Atlas (2010, available in English, French and Spanish from UNESCO Publishing), was made possible thanks to the support of the Government of Norway, and lists about 2,500 languages (among which 230 languages extinct since 1950), approaching the generally-accepted estimate of some 3,000 endangered languages worldwide. For each language, the print Atlas provides its name, degree of endangerment (see below) and the country or countries where it is spoken.

The online edition provides additional information on numbers of speakers, relevant policies and projects, sources, ISO codes and geographic coordinates. This free Internet-based version of the Atlas for the first time permits wide accessibility and allows for interactivity and timely updating of information, based on feedback provided by users.

Degrees of endangerment

The present edition designates the degrees of endangerment a little differently than the previous editions. The new terminology is based on UNESCO’s Language Vitality and Endangerment framework that establishes six degrees of vitality/endangerment based on nine factors. Of these factors, the most salient is that of intergenerational transmission.

Degree of endangerment Intergenerational Language Transmission
safe language is spoken by all generations; intergenerational transmission is uninterrupted
>> not included in the Atlas
vulnerable vulnerable most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home)
definitely endangered definitely endangered children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home
severely endangered severely endangered language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves
critically endangered critically endangered the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently
extinct extinct there are no speakers left
>> included in the Atlas if presumably extinct since the 1950s

The interactive online edition of the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger is complementary to the print edition and may be cited as:

Sami languages disappears

Barents Observer 2010-02-19

Two Sami women on the Kola Peninsula.The world’s smallest language, Ter Sami, is only spoken by two persons. Also, Ume Sami and Pite Sami will not last long.

According to Pravda, there are only two people left speaking Ter Sami, a Sami dialect spoken in villages in the eastern part of the Kola Peninsula. In the end of the 19th ventury, there were six Ter Sami villages, with a several hundred inhabitants. Now, there are some 100 ethnic Ter Sami in the area, of whom only two elderly persons speak the original languages. The rest have shifted to Russian.

The Sami languages are also challenged in the southern part of the Barents Region. In, Sweden there are only some 10 people who can still speak the Ume Sami, traditionally a Sami language spoken on the course of the Ume River.

Also Pite Sami, traditionally spoken on both the Norwegian and Swedish side of the border in the Arjeplog area, is a dying language. According to Wikipedia, there are only some twenty native speakers left and only on the Swedish side of the border.

In Finland, a severe lack of teachers could threaten the future of Sami people in the north, YLE News reports this week.

A study carried out at the University of Oulu says that an investment is needed in training Sami language teachers and other educators who speak the language. It suggests that teacher training be organized at one of the universities in the north of the country and in Sami-speaking areas.

It calls for special attention to be given to the future of the languages spoken by the Inari Sami and the Skolt Sami, YLE News reports.

Digital scribes transfer ancient words into bits and bytes

Leah Otak of the Igloolik Research Centre's oral history project digitizes one of the hundreds of taped interviews conducted with Igloolik elders as far back as 1986. The tapes contain a huge store of vanishing traditional knowledge and language. “I think I have the best job in Nunavut.”
Leah Otak of the Igloolik Research Centre’s oral history project digitizes one of the hundreds of taped interviews conducted with Igloolik elders as far back as 1986. The tapes contain a huge store of vanishing traditional knowledge and language. (PHOTO BY CHRIS WINDEYER)

IGLOOLIK — In the corner of a quiet government office building, Leah Otak spends her work days in front of a computer and a cassette deck, poring over hundreds of hours of recorded interviews dating back as far as 1986.
The interviews contain a massive trove of quickly-disappearing information: the traditional knowledge of elders from the Igloolik area covering everything from shamanism and kinship to traditional navigation methods and hunting and sewing techniques.

“It’s not boring,” Otak says. “I think I have the best job in Nunavut.”

Otak, manager of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangiit and oral history research at the Igloolik Research Centre, and assistant William Qamukaq are organizing the interviews by subject, with the long-term goal of getting the information into books and learning materials.

The process is vital to preserve traditional knowledge that’s threatened by everything from social ills and modern — mostly English — media to the universal tendency of young people to shun advice from their parents and elders. And while the advent of southern-style education brought new kinds of learning to Nunavut, it also disrupted traditional ways of passing along knowledge.

“It was the elders who had the desire to pass on the knowledge that they noticed is not being carried on,” Otak says. “When kids started going to school they didn’t spend time with their parents anymore, didn’t go hunting anymore, so all of the knowledge was being lost.”

The knowledge is also subject to the ravages of time itself. Of the 31 elders who contributed to the project, only two are still alive and are now in their 70s and 80s, Otak says.
But the wisdom is preserved on tape and in the process of being digitized, a process that should be finished this spring.

It’s also a vital source of Inuktitut vocabulary, preserving words and ideas that have faded from regular use. Plans call for a dictionary, and Otak hopes to see more classroom materials, with a simplified vocabulary for younger students and a more traditional form of Inuktitut for high school.

“I don’t think we’ll ever speak this language again, because we’re already speaking a translated version of English, rather than a real Inuktitut language,” Otak says.

“But we could take some words back. If people became interested in learning about how we speak, it [Inuktitut] will be presereved.”

Otak recalls on-the-land programs that sent youth out with elders who shared traditional knowledge. There need to be more programs that offer the benefits of that kind of connection, she says. “You could tell they [youth] were happier.”

Still, Otak admits there’s something strange about all the talk of the importance of preserving Inuit culture. “Thirty years ago we didn’t talk about getting back our ways because we knew them, we lived them,” she says.

So much knowledge has already been lost, but in her job Otak finds a reason for optimism. The knowledge that’s been saved is here to stay.

Original article here