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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.  


as long as you're here, why not read more?

a case for homicide?

last week a seven-year-old child died of dehydration and exhaustion at a facility run by the u.s. department of homeland security. the child was in government custody for seven hours before she died but no one seems to have checked on her or offered any assistance to her until she had a seizure and was admitted to hospital with a fever of nearly 106 degrees. it's not clear whether she was given water, food or a medical exam, which is standard for people turning themselves in at the border and throwing themselves on the mercy of the dhs.

death by dehydration [or the toxic shock caused by it] takes about three days for an average adult. for a child, especially one who had been walking in the heat for long periods of time, it can happen much faster. the preliminary report on her death indicates that she had not eaten in about a day. that will be confirmed by the final report [which is not due for a few weeks] but it's important that we understand that the government assertion th…

speaking ill of the dead

the passing of george h. w. bush last week has occasioned a lot of discussion about legacy and decorum. this usually attends the passing of influential people, politicians in particular, and the argument is something like this:

position one :: a person who influenced our lives and our world has passed and out of respect we should remember the good and remarkable things that he [less often she, at least for now] accomplished. now is not the time to revisit controversies.

position two :: not everyone is hitler, but that doesn't make them saints, either. a person has died and while we don't want to cause undue pain to their family, they had a long, healthy life and that is more than can be said for many of the people touched by their influence. however sympathetic they may have looked later in life, we need to say that the things that they did we horrible.

personally, i have some sympathy for both positions when it comes to a figure like bush41. given my political leanings, it…

making faces :: journal of the plague week [with pat mcgrath]

i've been lax about posting before but this time i have a very good excuse: i've had the plague. well, maybe not the plague. close enough to the plague! this started on the 21st of november. i can say that with certainty because the very first symptom was a small cold sore on my chin. since i tend to track what makeup i wear, i can see that the sore appeared on the 21st, whereas before my skin was happy and clear, my body blissfully unaware of what was about to happen to it.

the plague began with a cough and muscle aches that were very nearly crippling. the aching subsided after a couple of days but the cough got worse and worse, keeping me up at night even when medicated and ripping my throat up something fierce. then the pain came back, centred on my head. and there was fatigue that i haven't experienced in years. walking to the bathroom was enough to exhaust me to the point where i needed a nap. which is awkward when you have to summon the energy to walk back...

the sy…