On this years Kilkim Žaibu festival I saw the group Romowe Rikoito play live and it touched a nerve in me. Almost with tears in my eyes I listened to their captivating folk songs. I would like to talk a bit about that here.
Language, it’s a peculiar thing and often too easily put aside as something irrelevant. Language is a tool, we use almost daily in a peculiar manner and it is shaped by the peculiarities of our daily lives. I never reallly realized the importance of language, I have to say, untill later in my life, after I read a peculiar story.
In a school book, not sue for which subject, I read about a place called Sakhalin. A peninsula on the far side of Russia, At some point in time, I think it was around the year 1900, researchers went there to meet the last speakers of a regional language. They recorded these speakers on wax rolls (that was the thing way before records). So there was some form of preservation, but a while later those last speakers had all passed and at that point we call a language extinct. Peculiar, is it not?
The disappearance of a people
There’s something so incredibly sad to me about that story. There were people there, with a language, culture and history. With the end of their language all of that is gone, it has passed away with the last words. When a language dies, a bit of our humanity dies… that’s the way I see it. No one remembers the words and the lives of those people.
It seems like something from the past, but even in Europe languages die. The Livonian language has about 10 speakers left they estimate. Tsakonian (a Greek dialect) is almost gone and Prussian (an old Baltic language) only exists because some stubborn ethnic Prussians try to revive it. One Saami language will probably be extinct as well in 50 years (Pite Saami has 20-40 speakers left). Outside of Europe, the Yaghan language of the most southern part of Chile has one speaker left, who is 89. The language is an isolated form, so nothing will be left soon. There’s a few more examples and luckily most are documented now… Still, something ends.
Our words are very precious, they are shaped by the way we live and how we interact in our culture and part of the world. Our language is our testament to whoever comes after. I think we should cherish it more. English is great, I write in that language to reach more people. But that shouldn’t become our only tongue. We’ve lost so much already of who we are.
So no language is better than the other, but every language is owned by the people who speak it. It’s a part of you, of who you are and where you come from. That matters.
This is in no way intended to support any political agenda’s.