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originals

as we see out the final quarter of 2018 and i continue with my three-year [close enough] project of trying to learn every language in the world, i find myself excited by the news that 2019 has been designated as the year of indigenous languages by the united nations. this was announced back in 2016 but it's now upon us and hopefully, this will see an uptick in attention being paid to the vast array of languages in the world. [and how many of them are threatened.]

"indigenous languages" in this case refers to those spoken by small groups native to areas, most of which have been colonized or where the populations of different groups are isolated enough that there are substantial differences even over short distances. in a broader sense, all languages are and aren't indigenous to somewhere. english could be said to be indigenous to england. on the other hand, we know that english is a language that developed from a combination of latin-, germanic- and french-speaking invaders and that they displaced people already living on the islands, who spoke celtic languages. nevertheless, nobody would consider english an indigenous language in a global sense. by contrast, the inuit language came to the canadian north not long before the arrival of europeans [and displaced the dorset people who had been there before] but would be recognized as indigenous. for the purposes of 2019, "indigenous" is used as a synonym for "marginalized"- people whose cultures have been suppressed or at least lack government protection.

the question of protection is a tricky one. it's not like governments can offer comprehensive services in all indigenous languages. papua new guinea has 841 documented languages, most of which have well less than a thousand speakers. india has twelve official languages but that's from a total of 455. and even then, the availability of services in each of the twelve languages is largely determined on a regional level. but that doesn't mean that governments shouldn't take some steps to ensure that indigenous languages are supported and passed down to new generations. and that's the sort of thing that the u.n. [specifically unesco] is trying to inspire in the coming year.

duolingo, which i use as my primary language-learning tool, has implicitly thrown its support behind the initiative, by putting courses in hawaiian and navajo into development. i expect those will be launched early in the new year and making an effort to acquire a little of one or both of those will likely constitute my entire contribution to the year. beyond that, the only thing that individuals can do is support programs to make learning and sharing indigenous languages easier and to support programs that give increased resources and autonomy to indigenous people. it's also worth taking a little time [you have a year, after all] to read up on the challenges facing different indigenous groups. knowing is indeed half the battle.

the image at the top of this post is a snapshot of a truly amazing interactive map built by ethnologue. the page is linked earlier in the post but in case you missed it, the "live" version is available here. our linguistic diversity is truly staggering and as one of the only uniquely human attributes, it's something that's worth of protection.  

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