Intiq (Sun). Yacu (Water). Alili (Violet). Atsá (Eagle). Chimo (Greetings). Yabber (Talk).
Can you guess what all of these words have in common?
All of these words are from indigenous languages: Quechua (Peru), Kichwa (Ecuador), Tagalog (Philippines). Dińe (Southwestern United States), Eskimo-Aleut (Greenland, Canada, Alaska), and Aboriginal (Australia), respectively.
All of these indigenous languages and many others have such a cultural significance to large groups of people. But the problem is that their languages are slowly dying off every year. Just think about this: What if the amount of people who speak English decreases every year? Or if in ten years, you are no longer able to communicate with your parents in English? What if English was an endangered language? How would you feel?
Unfortunately, this is the case for many languages. A lot of indigenous languages are going “extinct” or “endangered”. Indigenous people are experiencing the loss with the disconnect of culture, and community as well. Yet, there might be hope for revitalization of these languages in certain parts of the world.
Recently, the government in Victoria, Australia has funded a multimillion program for Aboriginal languages to be taught in kindergarten classrooms. The program is said to reach a scope of more than 5000 children across the state. The Victoria government has funded Aboriginal languages to be taught through language classes and bilingual programs, which will include Chinese, Auslan sign language (the two most popular languages), along with a couple of others. Families and teachers are elated for this initiative as they believe the program will make their children ready for school, improve their brain function, and help them learn English. However, families are also in favor for this program as it will allow their children to connect with their home and family culture. Nevertheless, it is imperative that elite bilingualism does not occur. The goal is to assure Indigenous people own their languages before non-indigenous people.
I strongly believe in preservation of indigenous languages, as it is vital to keep families together and continue the ability of communication within groups. Like Wade Davis said, “Languages are more than just words… it’s a flash of the human spirit”. Languages are part of one’s identity, of one’s culture, of the people themselves, and of one’s groups.
Indigenous groups are underrepresented in many states. To empower marginalized and underrepresented groups, two Canadian women in Hay River started a puppet factory resembling indigenous groups in the Northwest Territories of Canada. These puppets were eventually used to teach and use indigenous languages in schools. The most interesting fact is that children can only speak their indigenous languages with the puppets – excluding English. Imagine that!
The programs above allow children to express themselves with their home languages and connect with their culture in schools. Like mentioned before, so many indigenous languages are slowly dying off; however, I believe that these small steps towards preserving indigenous languages are an advancement towards a more inclusive learning environment. Although the Aboriginal language programs in Australia and the puppets in Canada are a great start, there should be many more programs that strive to revitalize these indigenous languages, especially for their indigenous people. The scope of these programs should be broader and more sustainable to preserve the languages.
While school programs are formal methods for preservation, there are informal ways to promote these languages. For example, in over 120 Canadian supermarkets, store labels include the local indigenous languages. Most interestingly, the business collaborated with their own local indigenous people to be translators. Another very recent action was taken by the very known language app called Duolingo, which launched two indigenous language courses. They added ‘ōlelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian) and Dińe (Navajo). Their purpose was to revitalize these two languages and to give learners the knowledge of the cultures.
Whether it be school initiatives or language apps, we, as a society, should continue to make strides towards preserving indigenous languages. You should now ponder: in the case that English is used significantly less in a couple of years, would you do to keep it kawsay, kawsana, buhay, hinílá, iñuggun, living?
Resources for Indigenous Languages:
Children’s youtube books
Bioneers. (21, April 2015). The importance of preserving Indigenous culture. Bioneers. Retrieved October 18, 2018.
Butler, A. (09, October 2018). Now you can brush up on the Hawaiian and Navajo Languages on Duolingo. Lonely Planet. Retrieved October 18, 2018.
Cook, H. (18, October 2018). Kindergarten students flock to Aboriginal languages. The Age. Retrieved October 18, 2018.
Dacey, E. (04, October 2017). Indigenous languages to show up on northern grocery shelves. CBC. Retrieved October 18, 2018.
Malbeuf, J. (14 October 2018). 2 Women accidentally start puppet factory in Hay River, NWT. CBC. Retrieved October 18, 2018.