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The Pictographs of Emmanuel Domenech, 1860

The Pictographs of Emmanuel Domenech, 1860 | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |

Circa 1850. A curious document that had been filed away in a box for over a century. Hundreds of pages of strange, crudely drawn figures, resembling stick figures, many of them appearing to be urinating, copulating, whipping each other, and displaying enormously swollen genitals. An extremely important document that revealed much that was previously unknown about Native American history and culture??


Emmanuel Domenech was a Catholic priest who spent many years traveling through Mexico and the American Southwest before returning to France in the 1850s. Because of his experience with Native American culture, a librarian at the Bibliotheque de l'Arsenal in Paris brought to his attention, in the hope he could...

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Children of the Jaguar (Full Documentary)

Children of the Jaguar (Full Documentary) | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |



Until just 30 years ago, the Huaorani people, even for their closest neighbors, were more like ghosts than real people. They controlled an area of around 20,000 square kilometers and fought off much larger tribes and even the all-powerful oil companies and the government itself. Despite this, little or nothing was known about them. The Huaorani had no past, no history... they came from the darkest depths of time.

The majority of the Huaorani now live in the jungle of the Yasuni National Park, a reserve in Eastern Ecuador, which covers one million hectares of tropical Amazon forest. Yasuni is dating from the Pleistocene and it is one of the ten places in the world with the greatest biological diversity.

The Amazon ecosystem, and especially the rain forest, is considered one of the world's most complex animal and vegetable habitats. Its most important characteristics are the sheer number of different animal and plant species, and the extraordinary variations in macro and micro-habitats. In this park alone, over 100 species of tree per hectare have been identified. To give us some idea of the scale of this number, in the richest, densest jungles of Central America, the equivalent figure is no more than 40.

But it is not this but rather the incredible diversity of animal life that prompted UNESCO to declare it the world biosphere reserve in 1989. The most recent investigations have come up with spectacular statistics: over 500 species of bird, 62 snakes and over a 100 amphibians (43 of which are tree frogs alone). A 173 different mammal species have been officially recorded, though it is thought that the true figure could be over 200 - seventy percent of all the mammals in Ecuador.

The canopies of the trees are almost exclusive territory of birds and monkeys. Up there they find safety away from the dangers of the dark forest floor. Down in the world beneath the canopy of the forest danger is ever present and vigilance is constant necessity. There is always someone stronger and faster on the lookout for something to kill... and to eat.

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Sami People

Sami People | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |

The Multi-Faceted Land of the Sámi

Sámi culture has gone through great changes during the recent decades. Since the 1970s being Sámi has taken on new meaning as tradition has been combined with and assimilated to modern influences and views. In the 1990s, the land of the Sámi — Sápmi — got national symbols that reflect the unity of the Sámi in the new world.

The blue, red, green, and yellow flag of the Sámi flies from the poles in conferences and meetings. The national anthem written by Isak Saba in the early 1900s has made a comeback, although it is rivalled today by new "national yoiks". Examples of great Sámi events and remarkable Sámi personalities are subjects of research in history.

Every year, Sámi representatives attend official conferences of indigenous peoples in different parts of the world. Today the Sámi also have seven official flag-raising days, and a national holiday, February the 6th, which commemorates the first Nordic Sámi conference in 1917.

The fact that Sámi ethnicity is being expressed on a symbolic level is linked with the national "awakening" of the Sámi that has taken place in the last 25 years. In the early 1970s, young Sámi started to become aware of and fight for their Sámi heritage, a reaction to a long process of assimilation. The Second World War and the subsequent reconstruction period, the development of a road and communication network, a change in habits, and the school system — all these had come to the North according to the ideals and values of the dominant population.

From the start, the educated young Sámi aimed at creating a bridge between tradition and the present, between the old outlook on life and the influence of the modern society. This quickly gave rise to new forms of participation: new forms of Sámi politics, Sámi media, and Sámi art. One of the turning-points of the political-cultural history was the conflict concerning the Alta power plant at the beginning of the 1980s. This conflict invigorated the Sámi culture and led to important changes in the politics of the Sámi and the policies of the state in Norway.

Although the appreciation of Sámi culture has increased as a result of new laws and the political awareness of the Sámi, there are still conflicts in everyday life. Sámi culture is split into the territories of four countries; it is not protected by clear and strong borders. The status of the Sámi language still needs to be strengthened. In the case of many Sámi, the post-war assimilation period resulted in a low level of self-esteem, and the subsequent problems are still detrimental to, for example, attitudes toward the Sámi language.

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The fight to revitalize Canada’s indigenous languages | University Affairs

The fight to revitalize Canada’s indigenous languages | University Affairs | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |

“All of them are endangered,” says one academic. “There are no exceptions.”

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A modern example of language revitalization! Although the article was written in 2010, it is great to see that three years ago projects like these ones were beginning to unfold. Linguists devised teaching groups to get the young, speaking their Aboriginal languages once again. They even created strategies to recover lost Aboriginal languages! I wonder what the status of these languages are now, after three years have past. I hope that the number of people speaking these languages are steady increasing due to programs like these.

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The revival of an ancient whistling language

The revival of an ancient whistling language | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |

On a Spanish island, an ancient whistling language that once seemed to be dying out is now undergoing a revival.

The night has not yet fallen in La Gomera, one of the smallest Canary Islands.

From the top of the hill I can see, scattered in the distance, a few old houses. To my right, a row of black trees is a stark reminder of the fires that struck this Spanish island off the coast of Morocco last summer.

I close my eyes to avoid being distracted by the landscape and make an effort to hear. I'm trying to discern, among the echo of the wind and the noise from the cars that from time to time drive along the road, the sounds of silbo gomero or Gomeran whistle, an ancient language the locals have assured me is still in use.

This method of communication, in which the Spanish language is replaced by two whistled vowels and four consonants, has a peculiarity perfectly suited to this landscape of deep valleys and steep ravines. It has the ability to travel up to two miles (3.2km), much further and with less effort than shouting
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WHEN A LANGUAGE DIES | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |
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When a language dies,
The divine things, stars, sun, moon,
The human things,
To think and to feel,
No longer are reflected
In this mirror.

When a language dies,
All that there is in this world,
Seas and rivers,
Animals and plants,
Do not think of them,
Do not pronounce their names,
Do not look for them,
They do not exist now.

Then the window and the door
Are closed up to all the peoples of the world,
No more will they be shown
A different way to name
The divine and human things
Which is what is means to be
And to live on the earth.

When a language dies
Its word of love,
Its intonations of pain and caring,
Perhaps the old songs,
The old stories, speeches, the prayers,
No one, no matter whom,
Will be able to repeat them again.

When a language dies,
Then many have died,
And many more will die soon,
Mirrors forever broken,
Shadows of voices
Forever silenced
Humanity grows poorer.

Translated from the Aztec by Miguel Leon Portillo,
English translation by John Ross

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Norn, the ancient and mysterious language of Orkney, Scotland

Norn, the ancient and mysterious language of Orkney, Scotland | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |

"I am fifty years of age. When I was young, about five or six old men spoke mostly Norse but they were never taught to read or write any of it for a long time before so that their words and what does remain can be imperfect."
George Moar - Birsay - 1795


For almost 1,000 years, the language of the people of Orkney was a variant of Old Norse known as Norrœna, or Norn.

Originally carried to the Northern Isles by Norwegian settlers in the 8th and 9th centuries AD, their language, Old Norse, gradually developed into the distinctive language we now refer to as Norn.

The sheer scale of the Norse settlement of Orkney saw their language obliterate whatever indigenous language was spoken in Orkney. A few centuries later Norn was the dominant form of speech.

But unfortunately, because Norn was the language of the common people, it was never written down. Although official documents do exist from this period, they were generally written in Norwegian.

Norn remained the language of Orkney until the early 15th century, but, contrary to popular belief, its decline began well before the islands were annexed to Scotland, in 1468.

For many years prior to the impignoration, Scottish influence on Orkney had been on the increase. The Earldom had passed from Norwegian hands into Scottish ones and the influence of these Scottish earls must have had some effect on the "nobility" of Orkney.

Of particular importance, though, was the effect of Scotland on the church. Although the bishopric of Orkney was still subject to Norway, its bishops had shown a tendency to follow Scottish practices.

By 1312, the Scots calendar had been adopted and, as the clergy formed the bulk of the literate population of the island, the Scots language soon became more commonly used in clerical circles.  This is clearly apparent when we note that the last official document written in Norwegian in Orkney appeared in 1445 - 23 years before King Christian I pawned the islands to raise cash for his daughter's dowry.

However, despite this growing “Scottification”, it is likely that Orkney's rural population was largely unaffected and that the Scottish influence was restricted to the islands' upper classes. Because of this, Norn remained spoken in rural areas for 300 years or so later.

From the late 1500s to the early 1700s, most Orcadians were probably bilingual - speaking both Norn and Scots English. But gradually, cultural change in society, coupled with the economic changes, meant that the old tongue began to die out.

By the early 19th century, only a handful of older Orcadians still knew the language. When they died, Norn went with them. Although Orcadians had spoken Norn for almost a millennium, few, if any, of them wrote - or could write - a word of it. The illiteracy of the general population meant that the exact form of the language is unknown with only a few tiny fragments of written Norn remaining to us today.

To see an example of what we know to be Norn, click here


But although the grammar and intricacies of Norn are now lost, a huge number of Norn words survived in the spoken dialect of Orkney. These words, generally relating to everyday life, remained in the following centuries.

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Bedouin poetry: Storm In The Desert (Imr-Al-Quais)

Bedouin poetry: Storm In The Desert (Imr-Al-Quais) | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |
Bedouin Poetry
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But come, my friends, as we stand here mourning, do you see the lightning?
See its glittering, like the flash of two moving hands, amid the thick gathering clouds.


Its glory shines like the lamps of a monk when he has dipped their wicks thick in oil.
I sat down with my companions and watched the lightning and the coming storm.


So wide-spread was the rain that its right end seemed over Quatan,
Yet we could see its left end pouring down on Satar, and beyond that over Yazbul.


So mighty was the storm that it hurled upon their faces the huge kanahbul trees,
The spray of it drove the wild goats down from the hills of Quanan.


In the gardens of Taimaa not a date-tree was left standing,
Nor a building, except those strengthened with heavy stones.


The mountain, at the first downpour of the rain, looked like a
giant of our people draped in a striped cloak.

The peak of Mujaimir in the flood and rush of debris looked
like a whirling spindle.


The clouds poured forth their gift on the desert of Ghabeet, till it blossomed
As though a Yemani merchant were spreading out all the rich clothes from his trunks,


As though the little birds of the valley of Jiwaa awakened in the morning
And burst forth in song after a morning draught of old, pure, spiced wine.


As though all the wild beasts had been covered with sand and mud,

like the onion's root-bulbs.
They were drowned and lost in the depths of the desert at evening.



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An Indian Prayer by H. Kent Craig

An Indian Prayer by H. Kent Craig | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |

My grandfather is the fire
My grandmother is the wind.
The Earth is my mother
The Great Spirit is my father
The World stopped at my birth
and laid itself at my feet
And I shall swallow the Earth whole when I die
and the Earth and I will be one
Hail The Great Spirit, my father
without him no one could exist
because there would be no will to live
Hail The Earth, my mother
without which no food could be grown
and so cause the will to live to starve
Hail the wind, my grandmother
for she brings loving, life-giving rain
nourishing us as she nourishes our crops
Hail the fire, my grandfather
for the light, the warmth, the comfort he brings
without which we be animals, not men
Hail my parent and grandparents
without which
not I
nor you
nor anyone else
could have existed
Life gives life
which gives unto itself
a promise of new life
Hail the Great Spirit, The Earth, the wind, the fire
praise my parents loudly
for they are your parents, too
Oh, Great Spirit, giver of my life
please accept this humble offering of prayer
this offering of praise
this honest reverence of my love for you

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Mongolian overtone singing (xöömii)

Inspired by the landmark BBC One natural history documentary, Human Planet, this Prom will feature music from the series performed by the BBC Concert Orchest...

Throat singing is Mongolia's invaluable contribution to world. Although this type of unique singing developed in Mongolia in its classical form, it is also performed in India, Bashkir, and Tuva. But what exactly is throat singing? It is a special sound made in unison with the tongue, teeth, larynx and palate. To put it simply, it is a replacement of musical instruments with all aspects of vocal organs. To hear it for the first time is a wonder. It is said that there is no other nation in the world that can combine such human physical capacity in place of musical instruments, than the felt walled nation* The famous Russian Scientist, P. Chukot measured throat singing with sensative sound equipment and discovered that it was formed from converging tunes of different scale octaves between lower tone (which incidentally makes up the primary tone) and a combination of high peaks. Click on the picture to hear this unique style of singing.

The technique of throat singing may be easy to write about- but it is almost impossible to actually try to perform. To perform the higher tune, the singer should bend (or fold) the tongue, and tap skilled sounds with the tongue point and whisper through the front teeth. At the same time the converged melody is made by making lips conical. As the basic tune resonates, a melodic buzzing sound also reverberates.


Because of the unique skills needed to master this type of venerated singing is rigorous, there are not very many throat singers. The mother land of throat singing is considered to be in Khovd aimag, (in western Mongolia,). It is said that almost everyone there can throat sing. But although almost everyone can throat sing, very few actually can perform it professionally. It is estimated that only one out of two hundred children eventually master this demanding skill. Mr. Zulsar is one such gifted vocalist. He has traveled with the National Folk Song and Dance Ensemble to roughly fifty countries presenting the wonders of throat singing. Mr. Zulsar firmly believes in order to be a throat singer, one must not only have a capacious throat, but more importantly- the ability to refine through hard work and demonstrate a real patience for the continuous development of it.


“It is difficult to pinpoint the period when throat singing actually started, but as an art it started to develop during the 19th century. Khoomii is not studied well. Shorter forms of Khoomii was sang. In 1954 Tsedee, a singer from Chamdmani soum, Khovd aimag sang, Eulogy of Altai Kaan (long song about Altai mountain) in the throat singing form during the Khovd aimags Arts Days in Ulaanbaatar- That song was a revolution in the Khoomii art!" Zulsar asserts.

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Found after 40 years: Man who went missing with his son in the Vietnamese jungle when his mother and two of his children were killed in a bomb at their home

Found after 40 years: Man who went missing with his son in the Vietnamese jungle when his mother and two of his children were killed in a bomb at their home | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |



The last time anyone saw Ho Van Thanh, in 1973, he was running into the woods with his infant son after a bomb exploded near his home in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Forty years later, the 82-year-old man and his 41-year-old son have been found in a forest in the Tay Tra district of Quang Ngai province. Two people from a nearby village were looking for firewood when they came upon the pair's tree house, Times Live reports.

"My uncle doesn't understand much of what is said to him, and he doesn't want to eat or even drink water," Thanh’s nephew, Ho Ven Bien, told the Herald Sun. "We know he wants to escape my house to go back to the forest, so we have to keep an eye on him now."

Thanh could reportedly communicate in the Cor ethnic minority language, but his son, Ho Van Lang, spoke only a few words. The pair reportedly fled to the forest after a mine explosion killed Thanh’s wife and two other children four decades ago.

The father and son were found by local villagers who wandered 25 miles into the woods. They found the men living in a tree house. Photos taken by local media show the younger man wearing a loincloth made from tree bark, looking thin and disheveled.

"My father is very weak and the doctors are taking care of him, but my brother's health is fine even though he looks very thin," Ho Van Tri, Thanh’s son, who was left behind when his father fled into the forest, told the Herald Sun. He was 6 months old at the time.

The two men reportedly survived by eating forest vegetables and hunting animals. Their house, which resembled a bird's nest, was made from sticks surrounded by a large tree near a stream. The pair also made tools such as knives, axes and arrows for hunting, Thanh Nien News reports.

While some reports said the pair had no contact with the outside world all this time, Yet Ho Van Tri, Thanh’s youngest son, says he found his father and brother 20 years ago but could never persuade them to leave their jungle home, according to VnExpress. Tri said he has visited the pair every year and offered them salt and oil, which they have refused to accept.

Villagers say the discovery of the father and son has shaken their small community, which had believed the pair was long dead. "No one could imagine Thanh and his son could live 40 years in isolation in the hard conditions of the jungle," villager Ho Van Xanh said.

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"The Amazon Code" Trailer (aka "The Grammar of Happiness")

Deep in the heart of the Amazon is a mysterious language no outsider has ever learned. Until now. After thirty years of research and life with the Pirahas, one man has finally cracked the code


The power of speech

When Daniel Everett first went to live with the Amazonian Pirahã tribe in the late 70s, his intention was to convert them to Christianity. Instead, he learned to speak their unique language - and ended up rejecting his faith, losing his family and picking a fight with Noam Chomsky.

Daniel Everett looks and talks very much like the middle-aged American academic he is - until he drops a strange word into the conversation. An exceptionally melodic noise tumbles from his mouth. It doesn't sound like speaking at all. Apart from his ex-wife and two ageing missionaries, Everett is the only person in the world beyond the sweeping banks of the Maici river in the Amazon basin who can speak Pirahã.

Just 350 Pirahã (pronounced Pee-da-HAN) hunt and gather from their simple homes in the Brazilian rainforest. Linguists believe their language is unrelated to any other; racist Brazilian traders say the Pirahã talk like chickens. This obscure Amazonian people speak using only three vowels and eight consonants (including the glottal stop) but their language is far from simple. Like Chinese, for example, Pirahã is tonal and speaking in a different pitch transforms the meaning of a word. Unlike other tonal languages, Pirahã can also be hummed and sung. [more info:]



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The Nenets: The Tribe of the End of the World



The Yamal Peninsula: a stretch of peatland that extends from northern Siberia into the Kara Sea, far above the Arctic Circle. To the east lie the shallow waters of the Gulf of Ob; to the west, the Baydaratskaya Bay, which is ice-covered for most of the year.

Yamal in the language of the indigenous Nenets means the end of the world; it is a remote, wind-blasted place of permafrost, serpentine rivers and dwarf shrubs, and has been home to the reindeer-herding Nenets people for over a thousand years.


The self-designation is Nenets (n'enyts, pl. n'enytsja), meaning 'man'; the native term for the language is n'enytsia vada. The name hasaba, 'man', is less common and has restricted usage. Etymologically, Nenets derives from the same origin as Nganasan and Enets. The primal meaning of the root nenay is 'true, real, genuine', and this is often used in conjunction with the self-designation n'enay nenyts -- 'Nenets, i.e. a genuine man' (cf. eney enet -- 'Enets' and ngano nganasan -- 'Nganasan'). The term originally used by the Northern Nenets was applied to the whole people in the 1920s.

The older and more widespread name for the Nenets is Yurak-Samoyeds, or simply Yuraks. This comes from a Zyryan Komi word yaran denoting the Samoyeds, which in its turn is probably derived from the Yamal Peninsula tundra family name Yar. Through the Russian language the term Yurak-Samoyeds has been established in other languages and it is in common use up to the present day outside the Soviet Union. The common term Samoyed probably derives from the Selkup language where samatu ~ somatu denoted the Enets. This probably has its origins with the Enets Madu-tribe, who were called samatu or somaut by their neighbours.


The language of the Nenets belongs to the Samoyedic branch of the Uralic languages, comprising together with the Enets and Nganasan languages its Northern Group. Due to a rather low density of population spread over a vast territory the language is rich in dialects. An overwhelming majority (about 95 %) speak the Tundra Dialect that divides into 11 local vernaculars (Western, Central, and Eastern). The most prominent among these is the Bolshaya Zemlya local vernacular, which served as a basis for the Nenets written language. The Forest or Taiga Dialect divides into Western and Eastern vernaculars. The dialectal differences are actually quite minor and they mostly occur on a phonetic level; thus a Kanin and a Taymyr Nenets would have no difficulty in understanding each other's speech. The structure and basic vocabulary of the language are descended from the common Samoyedic foundation. Nenets is particularly rich in ways of describing nature (especially the character and properties of snow) and weather conditions. It also abounds in terms connected with reindeer-breeding, hunting and fishing.

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Smithsonian archives preserve lost and dying languages - Washington Post

Smithsonian archives preserve lost and dying languages - Washington Post | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |
Washington Post Smithsonian archives preserve lost and dying languages Washington Post Daryl Baldwin learned about the Smithsonian's National Anthropological Archives when he was trying to find out more about his Native American heritage and the...
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Can This Language be Saved? | Cultural Survival

Can This Language be Saved? | Cultural Survival | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |

Via Katelynn
Katelynn's curator insight, October 7, 2013 6:38 PM

What can be done to save a language? Has there been any languages that have been saved from death? This article highlights and answers some of these questions with case studies from around the globe. For me, the most fasinating part of this article was the fight Irish had to stay alive as a language. I never realized that it was a language ever in danger of extinction! The article also goes into a lot of detail about how languages become extinct, through the use of several examples. It explores the idea that the globalization of English may be a leading cause in the extreme language death we see occuring today. It deeply concerns me that this is happening, but this article gives me hope for saving languages from this fate.

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Hijra Farsi: Secret language knits community

Hijra Farsi: Secret language knits community | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |

“MUMBAI: It's not often that one stumbles upon a secret language floating around the streets of a busy Indian metropolis, least of all a language that has been alive-and-kicking across the...”

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Katelynn's curator insight, October 19, 2013 12:15 AM
This article is an example of a language that is thriving despite the persecution of its people and secret usage. Perhaps it is the determination of these people that keeps the language alive.
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Water Women of Vanuatu

One of the most amazing traditions in the world!

The water women of Vanuatu drum on water, while singing and dancing. A mesmerizing tradition that still continues in the magical isles of Melanesia. Now available for tours to festivals around the world. They have already performed to wildly enthusiastic audiences at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia and numerous festivals in Australia.

On tour to festivals worlwide, or anywhere there is waist-deep water!

An ancient women's practice that mimics the sounds and daily practices of their tropical island home, with songs titles such as "Waves Crashing on the Beach" and "Big Whale". Dressed in exotic jungle leaves the women enter the water singing and then start to drum hypnotically upon the water, creating a unique sound unheard in any other music.

In many instances the men of the village stand on the shore and answer with other songs accompanied by log drums, shakers, and stamping sticks.

There is an innocence to this music that touches your sole and leaves it grinning.

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Wolof | About World Languages

Wolof | About World Languages | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |

Wolof (Wollof) belongs to the Atlantic group of the Niger-Congo language family. It is spoken by 3.5 million people in Senegal and by 165,000 people in the Gambia. Wolof is also spoken in Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania and France (Ethnologue).

The origin of Wolof has not been clearly established. Some linguists think that the name Wolof may have come from the area in which the Jolof empire was established in the 14th century, The Jolof Empire was at its peak in the early 16th century, when profitable trade was carried on with the Portuguese. Spread of the deserts and political causes drove Wolof-speaking people from the Jolof southward into other parts of Senegal. Socioeconomic integration, urbanization, and inter-ethnic marriages helped to spread the language in the 20th century.



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Serge AWONO's curator insight, November 4, 2015 4:38 AM

Wolof | About World Languages

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"No Word for Worry": The Moken, The Sea Gypsies

The Moken are a semi-nomadic Austronesian people, who live in the Mergui Archipelago, a group of approximately 800 islands in the Andaman Sea that is claimed both by Burma and Thailand.

Thought to have migrated to Thailand, Burma and Malaysia from Southern China approximately 4,000 years ago, the Moken have traditionally lived on hand-built wooden boats called kabang for most of the year, migrating in flotillas between islands according to factors such as subsistence needs, wind patterns, security concerns and disease. They have historically shunned material possessions and rejected outside technology.

From May to October, when the south-western monsoon brings heavy rain and big seas, they have traditionally lived – as the semi-nomadic families still do – in temporary stilt houses on the eastern side of the islands, where they find protection from blustery winds.

Today, their maritime existence that recognizes no national boundaries is endangered. A peaceable people, they have frequently been persecuted by the Burmese and Thai governments, both of whom are wary of their border-less lives, and have tried to settle the Moken permanently in national parks.

Their semi-nomadic numbers have diminished in recent years due to political and post-tsunami regulations, companies drilling for oil off-shore, governments seizing their lands for tourism development and industrial fishing. ‘Today, the big boats come and take every fish. I wonder what they will do when the ocean is empty?’ Hook Suriyan Katale told film-maker Runar J. Wiik, who has created the website Moken Projects to raise awareness of their situation. Many Moken now live permanently in bamboo hut ‘villages’, selling handicrafts as souvenirs and working as boatmen, gardeners and garbage collectors for the tourist industry.

A few Moken families, however, still sail across the turquoise waters of the Mergui Archipelago in their kabang for seven or eight months of the year. ‘For the Moken, the ocean is our entire universe,’ says Hook Suriyan Katale.


No Word for Worry

At the heart of Project Moken is a feature length documentary written and directed by Runar Jarle Wiik.

On an island in the Mergui archipelago outside Burma and Thailand, the young speardiver Hook of the Moken sea-nomads wonders what the future holds. He was raised on the family’s Kabang (ancient dug-out sailing vessel) with the ocean as his universe. Like his peers, Hook grew up as much below water as above; he learned to swim before he could walk. He knows all the signs of the ocean; he knows every coral, plant and fish. As a nomad of the sea, time is measured in seasons and his language holds no word for “hello” or “goodbye”. Today his indigenous lifestyle is under threat. His people have never held a national citizenship; they have no legal rights. Hook’s brother Ngui struggles daily to keep his family alive and well. Hooks father, Jao, suffers from a heart condition due to exploitation in the blast fishing industry, and is placed in housing projects on the mainland. Jao is one of the last remaining elders who still knows the ancient art of building Kabangs – the key to their life and legacy. Now the Moken are restrained from harvesting the tree needed to build a Kabang; today the trees are there to make the rich wealthier.


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General linguistics

General linguistics | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |
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Tales and Traditions of the Inuit. THE SOLITARY KAYAKER

Tales and Traditions of the Inuit. THE SOLITARY KAYAKER | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |

THERE was once a kayaker who had only one certain hunting-place to which he always resorted, and whither he was never accompanied by any one else. He was well skilled in his craft, and generally brought home a great quantity of seals. Not far off, to the north of his habitation, lived a number of other people in a large house with three windows. One day he had started as usual for his solitary hunting-ground; but for the first time found it preoccupied by another hunter. On coming closer to him, he recognised in him one of his northern neighbours. This man spoke to him and was so talkative that the other found it rather difficult to mind his work. At home he reported, "To-day I at length had a fellow joining me at my hunting-place; he turned out to be one of our neighbours: but to-morrow I intend to be off earlier and try p. 289 to forestall him." Accordingly he started sooner than was his wont, but on reaching the place, he found that the other man had already arrived, and was even more loquacious than on the first day. It was almost daybreak before they had begun their work. When they had both caught their seals they returned. But the first kayaker on coming home, remarked, "It seems almost impossible to be beforehand with this man; however, I will try it once more." He started early the following morning, while it was still pitch-dark; but the other one was on the spot. He rowed close up to him, hoping to find him in his usual polite mood, but to-day he did not speak at all; not until daybreak did he utter a single word, and then went away. The next day it was the same thing over again, he never spoke till sunrise; then he remarked, "To-day she remained in bed altogether; the day before yesterday she fell sick, and all the while she is growing worse and worse." It is to be understood that he was speaking of his wife, and this was the reason why he had thus changed. He now added, "If thou dost not meet me here to-morrow, thou mayst judge that she is still worse, and then pray look in upon us to-morrow and see how we are doing." Then the other made some further inquiry, and went home with his catch, relating his adventure to his family. He did not meet his new comrade the next day, and therefore called on him the day after. Entering the house, he found all the men within; not one of them was out kayaking that day. He entered the room and there remarked a man sitting far back upon the ledge and staring straight before him, and he soon recognised him to be his former companion. His wife had died and he had already buried her. Observing the general silence, he rose and moved alongside the widower, saying—"I have come to give thee some solace; thou wilt be sure to stand in need of some one to talk to thee at such an unhappy time: and if thou wouldst like it, I will bethink p. 290 me of something to tell thee." But at this the widower uttered some unintelligible words, at the same time looking very fierce and angry. Suddenly he advanced and took hold of the visitor by the throat and threw him down into the doorway. Taking it all for a jest, he quickly got up and re-entered the room; but he was again seized and thrust right against the doorposts and broke his spine, which immediately caused his death. The murderer again with downcast eyes seated himself on the ledge. Meanwhile a youth, the son of a widow, coolly proceeded to whet his knife; and when he had got it well sharpened, he sprang up behind the widower and made a long cut on each side of his back; the blood rushed out, and in a few minutes he fell down dead. At this sight they all got infuriated and took to their knives, and a terrible slaughter ensued; the widow and her son, with an adopted daughter were the only ones that remained unhurt; and having made their escape through the window, they went to take up their abode in the storehouse. But subsequently the winter became very severe, and the frost fearfully keen, so that the widow's son at last had to give up hunting, and remain indoors. They had almost finished their stock of provisions, only a few angmagsat (small dried fish) and a small bag with blubber were still left; and accordingly they could not afford to eat their fill every day. Not till supper-time did the widow venture to share out their portions. The son then got two and a half fish, while she herself and her step daughter had one and a half. Owing to this sensible management, they kept alive, though badly enough, and did not altogether starve with hunger, because they always got a morsel of blubber besides. For three succeeding days they went on like this, but on the fourth, the young man disappeared. However, he had only gone out to take a look round from some of the neighbouring heights. In the evening he put his p. 291 weapons and tools to rights, and on the very next day he returned home, dragging an immense white whale with him. The women were transported with joy, and at once began to flense and cut it up; but presently the daughter complained of her feet being so dreadfully cold. This was because the blood of the fish had got into her boots and filled them. Her mother, however, pretended not to heed her, and told her to go on helping her. A little afterwards the girl said that she saw all the mountains double, and then she was ordered to go inside; but the moment she bent down to descend through the entrance, she broke in twain, and was dead on the spot. In the evening the son wrought a spell upon the body of the deceased, and not till then was her mother aware of his being an angakok. They extinguished the lamps and he called forth the spirits, and restored her to life and health. They all remained living together at this place, and he afterwards married his adopted sister. At length they died there without removing to any other place, and without any accidents ever happening to them.

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Tales and Traditions of the Eskimoby Henry Rink[London, 1875]{Reduced to HTML by Christopher M. Weimer, Apr. 2003}

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Loulis, the only non-human primate to learn a human language in the way that human children most typically do: from his mother (Washoe).

Loulis, the only non-human primate to learn a human language in the way that human children most typically do: from his mother (Washoe). | Kennis Sociolinguistics Magazine |

Washoe is a chimpanzee who was taught to sign by her caretakers, Allen and Beatrice Gardner.  She was raised in a friendly environment in which she learned sign language both through imitation and instrumental learning.  Her language acquisition was notable in several respects.  Washoe was able to transfer signs to a new referent without specific instruction.  For example, she learned the word "more" in relation to tickling but was spontaneously able to apply the term to another referent.   Additionally significant was Washoe's use of signs in combinations after learning only about 8 or 10 signs.  This spontaneous combination of signs seems similar to the ability of human children to connect words in sentences to which they have never specifically been exposed.  Washoe has demonstrated reliable use of 240 signs.   A sign is deemed reliable when its use has been recorded by three separate observers on 15 consecutive days.  Her trainers have observed that Washoe mostly uses her signs to discipline her children and explain her concern about them. 

...and Loulis

Washoe adopted an infant chimp named Loulis.  No human sign language was used in Loulis' presence during the first 5 years of her life.  Remarkably, Loulis nonetheless acquired more than 50 signs by watching the other chimps.  Bob Ingersoll, who studied Washoe and Loulis, observed that there was little active teaching on the part of the adult chimps.  Loulis' language acquisition thus reflects the manner in which human children acquire language.  The Gardners concluded from Loulis' acquisition of language through observation of the other chimps that: "once introduced, sign language is robust and self-reporting, unlike the systems that depend on special apparatuses such as the Rumbaugh keyboards or the Premack plastic tokens."

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Loulis, the only non-human primate to learn a human language in the way that human children most typically do: from his mother (Washoe).

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Tristan Da Cunha, The World’s Loneliest Isle. History, People, Language

The World’s Loneliest Isle

Tristan da Cunha is a volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean lying 2,816 kilometers from the nearest land, South Africa, and 3,360 kilometers from South America. The island is roughly circular in shape with an average diameter of 11 kilometers and a total area of 98 square kilometers. The place is mostly mountainous - the only flat area is the location of the capital, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, on the northwest coast.

It wasn’t until 1816 that a permanent settlement was established on the only inhabitable region on the island, a ledge just three miles long by half a mile wide. Annexed by Britain in that year, only one man, William Glass, remained on the island after a Navy garrison left a year later. Other people arrived from various shipwrecks, and the population steadily grew over the years, now standing at just over three hundred.

For over 120 years life on Tristan barely changed, but after the World War Two a modest process of modernisation began. A small factory was built on the island to process the catches of crayfish that teemed in the surrounding seas, and money was introduced for the first time. The British Government appointed an Administrator from the Foreign Office to look after the island and its inhabitants, and a ship began to call once a year to bring supplies and medical assistance.

The upturn in fortunes was not to last, however. The tranquillity and solitude of life on Tristan was shattered in August 1961 when the volcano began to stir for the first time since its habitation. Tremors shook the settlement, Edinburgh, and an ominous bubble began to form nearby the small thatched houses, spewing lava and steam. Ships were dispatched from Britain and Cape Town to rescue the islanders, and the entire population was brought to England. Most had never left Tristan in their entire lives, and the culture shock was devastating to them.

Tristan da Cunha is home to a population of 270 very isolated people, with an economy based in the fishing industry. The climate is sub-tropical, with very little variation in temperature from season to season, and it would probably be a pleasant place to stay... if there were more arable land: the only sort-of level bit of land is located at the northwestern edge of the island, and the rest is mountainous and rocky.

The islanders frequently face the full wrath of Atlantic storms: the gusts of wind of almost 190 km per hour once were so strong that they swept the grazing cows and sheep from the fields and into the ocean... Think about looking out of your window and seeing woefully mooing bovines sailing past... perishing in the waves...

There are instances of health problems attributed to endogamy, including glaucoma. In addition, there is a very high incidence of asthma among the population and research by Dr. Noe Zamel of the University of Toronto has led to discoveries about the genetic nature of the disease. Three of the original settlers of the island were asthma sufferers.

The island now boasts a convenience store, a radio station (broadcasting the World Service four days a week), a cafe, a video shop and a swimming pool. Tristan is now connected to the world by one telephone and a fax machine in the Administrator's office, and is visited once a year by the only mail ship in the world, the RMS St. Helena. This ship brings not only mail, but canned food, videos, books and magazines, medical items, and the occasional visitor.

The English of Tristan da Cunha

The English-speaking community there is not only small (270 people), but also the most isolated. Tristan da Cunha English holds yet another distinction as it is also the youngest native-speaker variety of English around the world, established less than 200 years ago. Different “flavors” of English were originally brought to the island from various regions of the British Isles, as well as from the Northeastern United States, South Africa, and St. Helena. In addition to its small size, isolation, and short history, Tristan da Cunha English-speaking community is also peculiar in other ways. For example, unlike in so many other English-speaking parts of the world, Tristan da Cunha community is entirely Anglophone and monolingual. When the community was first established, the island was uninhabited, so there was no contact with any indigenous languages, as was the case in many other British colonies. There is only one settlement on the island, officially known as Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, but referred to colloquially as “the village”. Hence, there is no regional variation on Tristan da Cunha. Furthermore, the community tries to control social stratification by all means possible. For example, there is no unemployment on Tristan da Cunha. Despite—or perhaps because of—the isolation, there is a very strong sense of group identity and conformity among the inhabitants of the island, so there is no socio-linguistic variation either.

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Click Language and the San Bushmen People

The origins of the Bushmen, also called the San, go so far back that they are lost in the mists of time. There have been a great many theories put forward about the beginnings of these mysterious little men whose remarkable way of life has gone on virtually unchanged for since the Stone Age. These small, light-skinned people called Bushmen by Europeans know themselves as the 'Khwai' or 'men'.

They were dispersed over an area stretching from Walvis Bay to the Zambezi valley and then southward past Lake Ngami and Botswana to the southeastern coast near Port Elizabeth. Having at different times in the past run foul of Hottentots, Bantu, Dutch and British in the Cape, they are now mostly concentrated in the Kalahari, and number between 30 000 and 55 000 people.

Bushmen live in clans and loosely connected family groups consisting of 120 or more, but never in anything like a tribal entity. Each clan has a right of use over some land and they are careful not to trespass on their neighbour's property.

The hallmark of their social attitudes is their utter belief in co-operation - within the family, between clans, and within nature itself. Their customs are geared to exclude anything that causes personal antagonism. There is, therefore, no ownership of property. Even the spoils of a hunt are divided according to customary allocation.

The Bushmen believe that if he misuses his environment, he will be punished by the Supreme Being. So he never takes from the soil or from the herds of game more than he needs to stay alive. In his long history there is no evidence that he has ever needlessly exploited nature and some experts have actually described the San as the world's greatest conservationists.

The San showed their appreciation of their environment by the beautiful paintings they left behind them in rock shelters all over southern Africa. These ancient galleries exhibit no amateur daubs. Only experts were allowed to exercise their talent and from what we know of the Bushmen of the south, many of these artists were widely renowned. They passed from hunting group to hunting group, supported by them out of respect for their talent.

The artists were also the invokers of the spirits and tellers of tales, but their true genius lay in recording and bringing to life upon the enduring rock the ceremonies, rites and myths which their people whispered around the fires at night.

The techniques they employed are largely unknown. The few painters actually encountered by Europeans used about ten differently coloured paints which they kept in small gourds hanging from their waists. The ingredients varied with the locality but in general, charcoal provided the black, white came from kaolin or bird droppings, and red came from iron-oxide or weathered haematite. The mixing medium was a speciality of each artist. Some chose to use animal fat, others resins, milk or rock salts. The brushes were soft bones, teased-out twigs, feathers or other natural fibres.

Another side of the Bushmen's artistic nature is their love of music and dance. Dancing has deep religious significance for the Bushmen. Sometimes a dancer will fall into a trance, and he then believes himself to be in a supernatural state capable of seeing vast distances and of performing cures.

The San are regarded as great hunters. There are many tales of their prodigious stamina, outstanding eyesight and uncanny tracking abilities. Their arrows are tipped with powerful poisons, strong enough to kill the largest animal. A big buck may travel for 15 km before collapsing from the effects of the paralysing poison in its bloodstream. The San hunter will follow close behind, using all his wiles as tracker to claim his prey.

The San's bow is small and light and his arrows fragile - he relies on the poison to kill his prey rather than on any wound which is inflicted.

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Bushmen speak a variety of languages, all of which incorporate 'click' sounds represented in writing by symbols such as ! or /. The unique clicks used in Khoisan languages are varied and complex, with many varieties and applications throughout the different Clans and groups. Here is a very simplified description of the more common ones used. They are denoted by internationally recognised symbols.

•        / (Forward slash) - denotes a frontal dental click similar to the English "Tsk-Tsk" of disapproval. /? is a Glottal variation & ?/ is a nasal type.

•        // (2 Forward slashes) - denotes a lateral dental click similar to the sound used to urge a horse.

•        ! (Equals sign bisected by a forward slash, “not-equal sign”) - denotes a sharp alveolar click made with the tongue against the roof of the mouth.

•        ! (Exclamation mark) - denotes a sharp palato-alveolar click made with the tongue on the back of the gum ridge. Cork popping sound.

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