Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages

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9780618236497: Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages

In Spoken Here, Mark Abley journeys around the world seeking out languages in peril -- Manx, Mohawk, Boro, Yiddish, and many more. Along the way he reveals delicious linguistic oddities and shows us what is lost when one of the world's six thousand tongues dies -- an irreplaceable worldview and a wealth of practical knowledge. He also examines the forces, from pop culture to creoles to global politics, that threaten to wipe out 90 percent of languages by this century's end.
Abley encounters one of the last two speakers of an Australian language, whose tribal taboos forbid them to talk to each other. He spotlights those who believe that violence is the only way to save their tongue. He meets a Yiddish novelist who writes for an audience she knows doesn't exist. He pays tribute to such strange tongues as the Amazonian language last spoken by a parrot, the Caucasian language with no vowels, and the South Asian language whose innumerable verbs include gobray (to fall in a well unknowingly) and onsra (to love for the last time).
Each of the languages Abley spotlights, from the familiar to the foreign, exemplifies the various threats that endanger languages worldwide. But many also prove their resilience, thanks to the efforts of their determined speakers and such unlikely tools as soap operas and pop music. Abley meets the crusaders as well as the uncaring, all of whom offer surprising insight into this centuries-old debate. Spoken Here is a singular travelogue, a compelling case for linguistic diversity, and a treasure trove for anyone who loves any language.

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From the Inside Flap:

Whether on the other side of the world or in our own backyard, languages everywhere are fading into oblivion. Mark Abley explores what the human family stands to lose -- and explains why some endangered languages continue to thrive.

Within the next couple of generations, most of the world?s 6000 languages will vanish, due mainly to the unstoppable tide of English. With an open mind and a well-worn passport, award-winning journalist and poet Mark Abley tells entertaining and vital stories about why languages matter. From Oklahoma to Provence, aboriginal Australia to Baffin Island, the cultures are radically different, but the problems of shrinking linguistic and cultural richness are painfully similar. Abley?s investigation provides a stunning glimpse of the beauty and intricacies of languages like Yiddish and Yuchi, Mohawk and Manx, Inuktitut and Provençal. More importantly, it offers a sympathetic and memorable portrait of the people who still speak languages under threat.

When a language dies out, gone too are stories that have been told for centuries, unique ways of seeing the world, and perhaps even ways of solving problems both large and small. Abley believes we must see languages as abundant sources of richness, wonder and usefulness. And he shows that hope still exists: that the determination of even one person can revive a whole language and its culture, in the process creating something new, changing and alive -- exactly what languages do best.

About the Author:

Mark Abley, an award-winning journalist, writes for the Montreal Gazette, the Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. He speaks English, French, and a little Welsh. His previous book, Spoken Here, was named a Best Book of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle and Discover magazine. He won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2005 for work on language change and the future.

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