At the beginning of each semester, Lise Dobrin asks the undergraduates who take her Languages of the World class at the University of Virginia if they’ve ever heard or read about endangered languages. Fifteen years ago, only a few had; nowadays everyone raises a hand. Why the shift? Because the popular media has done so many stories.. read more →

Edwin Benson is making his journey to the spirit world and, if his prayers are answered, he will finally be in the company of others who can speak to him in a language now almost lost on Earth. Benson, of Twin Buttes on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, died Dec. 9 at the age of 85… read more →

When a colleague’s tip led Jose Antonio Mazzotti, the King Felipe VI of Spain Professor of Spanish Culture and Civilization at Tufts, to a remote village in central Peru, most scholars believed that the ancient, undocumented language known as Iskonawa was nearly extinct, spoken only by a handful of people living in voluntary isolation on.. read more →

Twenty-six years ago, two brothers decided their native language needed a new alphabet. The scripts they’d been using to read and write their native Fulani, an African language spoken by at least 40 million people, weren’t working well. Fulani’s sounds were rendered imprecisely by the Arabic alphabet, the script most often used to write it; the.. read more →

With five distinct kinds of clicks, multiple tones and strident vowels – vocalized with a quick choking sound – the Taa language, spoken by a few thousand people in Botswana and Namibia, is believed by most linguists to have the largest sound inventory of any tongue in the world. The exact count differs among scholars. Studies commonly cite.. read more →

To the untutored ear, the Beijing dialect can sound like someone talking with a mouthful of marbles, inspiring numerous parodiesand viral videos. Its colorful vocabulary and distinctive pronunciation have inspired traditional performance arts such as cross-talk, a form of comic dialogue, and “kuaibanr,” storytelling accompanied by bamboo clappers. But the Beijing dialect is disappearing, a victim of language.. read more →

Folks from Salinas like to remind you that their valley is the “Salad Bowl of the World.” Not that you can forget. Everywhere you look there’s fields growing lettuce, strawberries, broccoli. A growing number of the farm workers picking the broccoli and lettuce from those fields speak neither English nor Spanish but several Native Mexican languages like Mixtec,.. read more →

Walking briskly down Nassau Street to the train station on one of the first few days of term, I noticed two people following leisurely behind me, chatting about the weather. Their conversation was so relaxed, so casual, that I hardly noticed they were speaking Irish. It didn’t seem out of place. There was no glaring.. read more →

The language had been spoken by the Myaamia people, Native Americans who originally lived in what is now Indiana. Also known as the Miami, they were forcibly relocated twice in the 19th century, and ended up scattered throughout the Midwest and beyond – a situation that put pressure on the language even a century ago. By.. read more →

About a decade ago, I returned to the Pueblo of Laguna to spend the summer with my grandmother just like I did before my teen years took over fresh routines. At the time, I was reconnecting with my roots. Years had passed since I had spent an entire summer on the pueblo. And now that I was.. read more →