Friday, August 29, 2008

Adieu, Adieu, To You and You and You

One of the things that makes me the saddest (and thinky newspapers have a way of publishing a story on the subject at least once year during a news drought) is the idea of a language dying. The Guardian just today listed ten languages on the verge of extinction, each spoken by a handful of old people in some far flung place or other. I know I’m not ever going to speak anything with a click in it. Moreover, I know that even if I miraculously learned, everyone else who could speak it would be dead by the time I learned. But seriously, when I was in fourth grade and I heard that Navajo was a dying language and I was a WWII enthusiast (thanks, Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself) and had just learned about code talkers, I was sufficiently upset to check out a Navajo dictionary published in, like, 1955 from my library and convince myself I could learn to speak it fluently. I never got past the words for vegetables.

This article goes on to say that half of the world’s 6,900 languages will be dead by 2050, which makes me so sad I could pukw. Mostly because when they say something like, “N|u is a Khoisan language spoken by fewer than 10 elderly people whose traditional lands are located in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa,” I picture three fucking old as dirt people sitting around a campfire, talking, and no one can understand them, and they’re saying some really great shit. I know that their cultural stories have probably been passed down in other languages, but come on. Hearing someone tell my Uncle Arcangelo’s story about going deaf in one ear in anything other than his Yonkers patois would miss the whole point.

I’m not sure where I’m going with all of this, other than that I feel like I’m culturally a part of several monsters. English is like the number muncher of world languages, and I was born into an immediate family of Yankees fans, which is about as fun as rooting for Walmart, and I had to stop myself from autopiloting into a Starbucks in the middle of the old cobblestone-y section of Heidelberg, Germany.

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