France’s regional languages fight for parity

Breton village

The French language has long been held sacred in France, which has led hard feelings among groups within the country whose first tongue is something other than the lingua franca.

France is home to more than 2 million individuals who speak regional languages such as Alsatian, Breton and Corsican, but the French government has refused to change its constitution, which states that “the language of the Republic is French.”

So while France actually signed the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages – adopted in 1992 under the auspices of the Council of Europe to protect and promote historical regional and minority languages in Europe – the French government has never ratified it.

As a result, the nation’s regional languages have failed to receive support required by the charter.

In fact, the policies of the Paris government have had the deliberate effect of greatly weakening the prevalence of native languages in France that are not “French.”

The second-class status afford languages other than French has not set well in regions where regional tongues are still prevalent, such as Brittany, the Basque country and Corsica.

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Once-extinct Cornish shows signs of comeback

cornish language

It’s estimated that half the world’s 6,000-plus languages are in danger of disappearing.

Many have become victims of progress and development that has aligned speakers of endangered tongues with a more dominant culture that relies on a handful of principal languages, such as English, Russian or Mandarin.

A vast number of the world’s endangered languages haven’t even been set down in written form, which further hinders efforts to keep them alive as older speakers die off.

Yet, a glimmer of hope for those who see the inherent value in the diversity of spoken languages can be found in the revival of the Cornish language in the United Kingdom.

Cornish, considered extinct for decades, has undergone a rebirth in years, with a small but steady increase in speakers as cultural awareness of the distinctive nature of the Cornwall region has been recognized and celebrated.

Today, London is home to a vibrant group of Cornish speakers and it’s estimated there are today in Britain hundreds of fluent Cornish speakers and thousands with at least some ability, according to The Independent.

In addition, a small number of children in Cornwall have been brought up to be bilingual native speakers, and, in a development unheard even of a century ago, the language is taught in many schools.

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Census shows decline in Welsh language

welsh flag

Fewer than one in five Welsh residents speak the ancient Celtic language, a recent language census reveals.

The results of the survey, done in 2011 and released this week, represent a decrease from the last census, completed in 2001.

As of 2011, the number of Welsh who speak the language has fallen to 19 percent, down from 21 percent a decade earlier.

Overall, Welsh speakers have fallen from 582,000 in 2001 to 562,000 last year, despite an increase in the size of the population, according to the BBC. Nearly 2.4 million Welsh said they were unable to speak the language.

Figures also suggest Welsh is now a minority language in two heartland areas, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, while just two areas, Monmouthshire and Cardiff, registered a percentage increase.

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Woman called ‘Rosa Parks of Wales’ dies

The woman called the “Rosa Parks of Wales” died earlier this week, decades after losing nearly everything in an effort to put the Welsh language on equal footing with English in her native land.

Eileen’s Beasley’s fight to have her tax bill printed in Welsh left her with an empty house – literally – as bailiffs took everything of value from the home of her and her husband, including wedding gifts and the carpets.

Adam Phillips, chairman of Balchder Cymru (Pride of Wales), said Beasley’s contribution to the Welsh language bears comparison with Rosa Parks’ efforts for the civil rights movement in America when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955.

“To have bailiffs come into your house and take everything you own because you refuse to pay on a point of principle – imagine the shame of that in those days with people looking down their noses at you,” he told WalesOnline.

“It’s people like these activists that make things happen,” Phillips added. “She and her husband did it peacefully, but suffered for it.”

Beasley and her husband Trefor became leading campaigners for the right to use Welsh, beginning in the 1950s.

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Nordic people turn to Israel for linguistic aid

The Sami are the only official indigenous people of Scandinavia, but they’re looking south, far south, for help preserving their fading native language.

The Sami, with roots as reindeer herders in the northern reaches of Scandinavia and Russia, are turning to Israel for assistance in keeping their languages alive.

A Sami delegation from Norway spent five days in Israel earlier this year, hoping the Jewish state’s experience reviving the once-dormant ancient Hebrew language can provide a blueprint for them, according to the Associated Press.

“Over the past century, Israel has transformed Hebrew, once reserved almost exclusively for prayer and religious study, into a vibrant, modern language,” according to the wire service. “Through its “ulpan” language immersion program, it has taught a common tongue to immigrants from all over the world, helping the young state absorb generations of newcomers.”

Sami is a general name for a group of Uralic languages. Sami is frequently and incorrectly believed to be a single language. There are nine different extant of Sami, ranging from Northern Sami, with more than 20,000 speakers, to Ter Sami, with two speakers.

The Sami, formerly known outside their community as Lapps, a term now abandoned because the Sami regard it as derogatory, have tried different methods for the past generation to boost the number of fluent Sami speakers, without success, said Odd Willenfeldt, principal of Sami School for Mid-Norway and a member of the delegation.

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New Guinea’s linguistic reservoir endangered

New Guinea is regarded as the world’s greatest linguistic reservoir, being home to more than one-sixth of the world’s languages, at least 1,000 in all.

However, that status may change within the next century as many of the native tongues are in danger of dying out, many now having fewer than 1,000 speakers.

“It’s Indonesian more and more,” said Yoseph Wally, an anthropologist at Cendrawasih University in Jayapura, Indonesia. “Only the oldest people still speak in the local dialect,” he said.

In some villages Wally visits, not a single person can understand a word of the traditional language, according to Agence France-Presse.

“Certain languages disappeared very quickly, like Muris, which was spoken in an area near here until about 15 years ago,” he said.

It’s a problem not unlike those facing speakers of Native American languages, many of which have become extinct or on the verge of extinction in recent decades as village elders die off and younger members turn exclusively to English.

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An endangered language commits suicide

Living in a nation whose dominant language seems to be encroaching daily upon the rest of the globe, we sometimes forget there are literally hundreds of spoken tongues on the brink of extinction.

Nearly 500 languages are currently close to oblivion, according to the website In the Americas alone, some 182 are on the cusp of extinction, including approximately 75 in the United States.

It is said that every 14 days a language dies somewhere in the world and that by 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth – many not yet recorded – may disappear.

Cornell University researchers found that when two languages compete, only one survives while the other declines exponentially. Policies, education and advertising can slow this process, according to the 2003 study.

Perhaps one of the more curious examples of an endangered language is that of Ayapaneco, which has been spoken in what is now Mexico for centuries. Today, there are just two people left who can speak it fluently – but they refuse to talk to each other.

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