Djcnor’s Weblog

What is lost when a native language is

Posted on: November 21, 2008

I never thought much about languages until THEY recommended that I take Latin if I hoped to go to college. It was interesting that Latin used to be a common language used by those with different original languages to communicate in a large part of the world, but now unused except within the Catholic Church. I remember the contraversy when the church decided to allow mass in other languages. I thought it was very strange for that to be an issue at all.

Over the years, I’ve encountered other instances of how important language is to identity. I acquired a friend from Barcelona who told me of how it had been a crime to speak the regional Catalan language during all the time she was growing up, how they kept it alive anyhow, and what they did to maintain their cultural identity while it was illegal. When I visited Barcelona, I made sure to learn to dance the Sardana. It’s simple enough. The ritual attached to it is what expresses the solidarity. The people and the musicians come to a central place. The Sardana is a circle dance done holding hands, so everyone piles everything they are carrying in a pile in the center. Then they dance. Now, it’s scheduled, but during the Franco years, it was word of mouth where to come when, and they danced silently to protest their  not being able to speak their language. Anyone who wants to join in is welcome and shown how. It is a thing of beauty.

Later, I went to a scientific meeting scheduled by NATO. There were young scientists from all the NATO countries, including Belgium. There were several Belgians. Now Belgium is the size of New Jersey. Some Belgians speak a form of Dutch, some a form of French, often only one or the other. So these people from the same country, a country the size of New Jersey, could only communicate in English, the language of a whole other country. How sad.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’ll just say that I’ve come to understand how closely a people’s identity is tied to their language, even to the a very localized language.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate Australian Aborigine art along with the treasure of knowledge of the land that comes with it. I’ve seen stories on the news about how they have the same kinds of problems American Indians have, povery and alcoholism and exploitation among them. So I was both sad and glad to see today that some in Australia have realized that the native languages are in danger of disappearning and how that should not be allowed to happen for the sake of Aborigine identity.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7225570.stm

I think I’d like to collect stories about the importance of language. I’ve also thought of the importance of dance to a culture. If you have any stories in this vein that you could call my attention to, I would appreciate it.

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