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Language Death and Language MaintenanceLanguages, like people, die. When a culture is assimilated into another, many of the characteristics that make it unique, disappear forever.
All Africa, and specially Ethiopia, is rich in cultures, traditions, and languages. It is estimated that at least 84 different languages are spoken in Ethiopia alone.
Even when you can’t prevent a language from vanishing, you can at least document some of it while there are still people alive speaking it.
It’s not an easy task since many of these cultures live in remote places and you not only have to travel there, but you also need a way into that culture, a bridge to be able to communicate and document the disappearing language.
If we don’t have enough resources in our own countries, it’s even harder to come up with money to spend in these projects. It’s a battle fought for very few people.
Graziano Sava is one of those people committed to learn, write and document these disappearing languages. He is an Italian linguist that travelled to Ethiopia to interview the last 12 people speaking Ongota, a dying language.
Ongota, also called Birale, is a language spoken in SW Ethiopia by the people of the same name. They live in the forest by the river Weyt’o as hunter-gatherers and of the about 100 people who make up the tribe, only a few elders speak the language. Many factors contributed to Ongota becoming an endangered language.
The small Ongota tribe is surrounded by the Ts’amakko people, a bigger community speaking a Dullay language and the majority of the Ongota adopted this language and have stopped teaching their children the original language for two generations.
The Ongota people are also suffering from the destruction of their environment so they can no longer practice hunting animals, fishing and bee keeping, not only for their own survival, but also for trading goods with other tribes. They are considered by others as incapable of producing food, thought of as primitive, wild, and their language is ridiculed by the surrounding communities. So the only way to survive and being accepted is gradually merge with their neighbors, the Ts’makko people, and leave their culture and language behind.
Here is a video made by Graziano Sava while visiting the Ongota to document their language. Over time, Sava became personally involved with the people he interviewed; maybe that’s the way to save a language, to recognize the people behind those words, to learn their stories, to know their needs and struggles, that is to say, to see them as human beings and not as a statistic.


Some books:

Encyclopedia of the world's endangered languages Encyclopedia of the World’s Endangered Languages by C. Moseley Archaeology, language and the African Past Archaeology, Language, and the African Past by Roger Blench
languagedecline Language Decline And Death In Africa by Herman M. Batibo endangered Endangered Languages: Language Loss and Community Response by Lenore A. Grenoble, and Lindsay J. Whaley

Links:
Unesco: Endangered languages
The Endangered language Fund
The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project
Foundation for Endangered Languages

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