Whats it take to bring a language back?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by horsebox, May 26, 2010.

  1. horsebox Registered Senior Member

    I live in Ireland and although English is the official language, in some areas of the country people speak Irish as their first language. I used to think it was pointless to learn Irish as nobody else speaks it but thats precisely the reason I think it would be fairly cool to speak Irish. If all Irish people spoke it then we'd speak a language only we understand. We'd speak English too of course. There are Irish culture organisations trying to encourage people to learn Irish and all that but I honestly can't see normal people learning the language well enough to speak it. Would you say if the government intended on making Irish the official language they could bring it back by enforcing it?
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  3. GeoffP Caput gerat lupinum Valued Senior Member

    See, this is why we don't trust you lot.

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  5. Search & Destroy Take one bite at a time Moderator

    They bring is back by making it mandatory in public schools / changing government words into Irish.
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  7. mathman Valued Senior Member

    If the people who want to bring it back would generate a campaign so that it would be considered cool to speak Irish, it might work.

    The people who founded Israel decided that the language of the country should be Hebrew, even though there were very few speakers at the time. They were able to convince the Jews who lived there that for a new country they needed their own language rather than Yiddish which was then the most common language.
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    This is why the Irish Travelers invented Shelta. It's a combination of English and Irish, and the sounds are often reversed or mixed up. Linguists call this a cant, a language variant that is invented rather than developing naturally, for the specific purpose of thwarting understanding by outsiders.

    During World War II the U.S. Marines recruited Navajo Indians as radio operators on the Pacific Front. They were known as "Code Talkers" and they transmitted all the secret messages in Navajo, a language that was virtually unknown by outsiders. Cherokee, Choctaw and Comanche were also used, as far back as WWI, but there were more Navajo speakers available. In Europe, Basque speakers served the same purpose. A movie was made a few years ago named "Windtalkers," about these Navajo Marines.
    You're obviously closer to this than I am, but the Wikipedia article on Irish says that it is recovering nicely. 40% of the population regard themselves as competent speakers; one-third say they speak it every day, and another one-third say they speak it but less often. People even study it in Northern Ireland. Considering that speaking Irish was illegal during the English occupation, this is remarkable progress.
    This is precisely what's happening. It is widely taught as a second language in government schools, and schools where all lessons are in Irish are growing in popularity, especially in the cities. Normally we expect ancestral languages to hang on the longest in rural areas, while city dwellers are seduced by the language they hear on TV and in business. In Ireland it's just the reverse. There is a certain "Irish pride" in urban areas, and people who speak it appear to have advantages in networking. In other words, speaking Irish is, indeed, "cool."

    No one predicts that Irish will ever be the primary language of the country. There will surely always be more Irish people who speak English but no Irish, than vice versa. But its future seems secure.
    This isn't quite precise. Hebrew is the liturgical language of the Jewish religion, as Latin is for the Catholic Church and Old Slavonic for the Eastern Orthodox. The Jews have always placed a high value on literacy, and anyone who has a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah ceremony at age 13 is required, as part of the validation process, to read, understand and recite from the Torah in Hebrew. Many of their most heated religious discussions are about different rabbis' competing interpretations of the words. Obviously this is not the same as carrying on a colloquial conversation in Hebrew with a cop, a store clerk or a lover, but it's a good start. So when the Zionists decided to make Hebrew the official language of Israel, millions of people were at least halfway there.
    There are still Jews who believe that it's blasphemy to speak Hebrew, "God's language," for secular purposes, and they speak Yiddish at home. And of course there are lots of practical-minded Jews who think they should all just speak English.
  9. Nasor Valued Senior Member

    It was significantly more complicated than that. The "code talkers" would communicate their messages by sending a string of seemingly-random Navajo words, with the receiver translating each word back into English and then taking the first letter of each English word to spell out a message. On top of that, most common military-related words were represented by coded terms rather than explicitly spelled out. So the code talkers weren't just chatting over the radio in Navajo; even a native Navajo speaker who wasn't familiar with the layers of encipherment and encoding wouldn't have any hope of understanding the messages.

    That being said, in many ways it was actually a hideously insecure code, since it basically amounted to a monoalphabetic substitution cipher with lots of homophones. The Navajo language was impenetrable to the Japanese, but much of the messages were actually English messages that spelled out things in English by substituting Navajo words for English letters.
  10. mathman Valued Senior Member

    I disagree very strongly, as having been through a bar mitzvah. All that was required was the ability to read a passage from the haftorah (a section from other than the five books of Moses) without necessarily understanding a word of it. The only Hebrew language I learned was a few sentences (standard prayers). Other than the rabbis, there were very few people fluent in the language at that time.
  11. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Interesting, different customs and traditions. My friend's son just had his bar mitzvah a few weeks ago. He's been studying Hebrew since he was about eight. He can translate any passage in the Torah and understands the meaning of the individual words--at least with only a few errors. I just assumed that was standard practice in educated families.

    I can recite any passage in the Torah, since they helpfully include the vowels! Of course as a linguist rather than a religious scholar I learned the ancient pronunciation, rather than the simplified phoneme set used in the liturgy and in Modern Israeli Hebrew. I don't know if anyone would understand me with all the TH's, DH's, GH's, Q's, glottal stops and schwas.
  12. CheskiChips Banned Banned

    Hebrew literacy for a Bar Mitzvah varies greatly between levels of orthodoxy and greatly geographically. In Israel most within the conservative, orthodox, and many of the reformist movement understand and can read the fluent Hebrew. In America it's less consistent. Even in some isolated Modern orthodox communities full literacy by bar mitzvah isn't a given...

    As general rules: Jews living in LA or on the east coast are more likely to be considered fully fluent than those living other places in the US. Those who are within the Orthodox community are most likely and near all of them can speak Hebrew fluently by bar mitzvah time. Conservative shuls may have children who are fluent at bar mitzvah in just reading without comprehension...or if they do comprehend at 13 they likely won't by 18. Reform shuls don't have any unified standard...they are the least likely to understand any Hebrew anywhere. Some never learn proper pronunciations, some never even learn Hebrew at all it seems and nearly all of them by 18 will know nothing.

    In Israel Yemenites still speak with all of the pronunciations. Other sects speak with some... Iranians speak with variations in ח & כ and with proper variation in the ת. French sephardim also speak with many of the variations. In fact...most established Rabbis probably know the pronunciations as well but they choose not to use them for various reasons.

    That being said, I'm not sure what DH is supposed to be. You might be interested to know that the vowel rules also vary by location...the kametz hey varies between dialects. The chataph is different as well, some keep it shorter and some seem to ignore it. Obvious between Yiddish and not Yiddish speakers is the dipthongs. The shva and shva nakh seem to be at the liberty of the speaker...though are more likely to be discriminated between by eastern speakers. Everyone pronounces them...and in the one case it's very very unlikely anyone can say they have the correct pronunciation.
    Last edited: May 28, 2010
  13. mathman Valued Senior Member

    One point that isn't being considered, as far as learning Hebrew in USA for bar mitzvah prep, is the time period. When Israel was founded (1948) things may have been quite different. My experience is from that era. Obviously things have changed since. I wonder if the existence of Israel and the revival of Hebrew as a living language may have had something to do with it.
  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    It's IPA ð, the voiced TH in English "the," Greek intervocalic Δ, Spanish intervocalic D. In the old Tiberian vocalization it's the fricative variant of the letter Daleth, ד without the dot. I've seen it transliterated as DH in linguistics papers, but I have no idea if that's a standard.
  15. firdroirich A friend of The Friends Registered Senior Member

    The Maori language of New Zeland nearly died out

    The Maori language of native New Zealanders was near dead. A lot has been done in the last 40-50 years to change that, including government legislation, introduction of the language in universities, radio and tv. Many government offices have dual language print-outs...but the government can only do much.

    The biggest impetus I think, has been from the cultural community who are churning out Maori art, plays, songs, films and festivals. As a result it has gained acceptance in popular culture, is part of the national identity and is deeply ingrained in sport and school activities, such as the "Haka" in rugby.

    There is no shame or guilt in speaking it openly. This to me is very important because I have lived in post-colonial countries where the local language has a stigma attached to it to such an extent that even the natives begin to shun it.

    A couple of links to show some history and what has been done in New Zealand to bring this language back

    NZ history

    Maori Language Week
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2010
  16. Someone'sBrother Registered Senior Member

    The place where I'm from historically had populations of the Lipan Apache tribe. They were an eastern Apache people who lived closer to the Gulf of Mexico rather than the desert southwest.

    There appears to be an attempt by the newly established Lipan tribe to revive the Lipan language the way some other tribes in the U.S. have been doing.

    I can't imagine how they would be able to scrape up enough knowledge since it's been classified as an extinct language. Maybe there's some people who still know it. It's not in any books I've come across.

    Certainly nobody in my family speaks it, even though we're supposedly descended from them. It's impossible to find out for sure, since our paper trail hits a wall at about 1870, though a cousin of mine was able to trace back far enough to become a bona fide Indian

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    There would have to be enough people who "cared" first and foremost to make a language revival work. Some language revivals would have it easier than others.

    But even if only a few people care about relearning their language now, they'll end up being the fanatics who teach their kids and eventually give rise to a "modern version" of the language. Maybe?
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    It depends on the culture. In Euro-American civilization, children want to assimilate into the surrounding culture so they "fit in." The last thing they want is to speak a language no one else understands and be regarded as outsiders.

    However, in late adolescence many of them suddenly "discover their roots" and make a desperate attempt to reconnect with a culture they had made great pains never to be part of. Look at the Aztlán/Viva la Raza movement. These are all children of Latino immigrants who grew up speaking English, eating pizza and listening to rap music. Suddenly they started waving the flags of their parents' countries and chattering in pidgin Spanish. My wife, whose mother married a Christian and sent her to church every Sunday, in her early twenties made a pilgrimage to Israel, signed up for a stint on a kibbutz, and took lessons in Hebrew. My own mother was careful to teach me nothing of her ancestral culture, but I made a point of celebrating my 30th birthday in Prague, having painstakingly learned enough of the language to order a meal.

    So it may be that the time to teach your children Lipan will be when they're in college.

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