ENDANGERED
LANGUAGES

K. DAVID HARRISON

Photo: Viktor Batyrovich Okchayev and Dmitriy Sergejevich
Republic of Kalmykia, Russia 2012 report [pdf]
Photo: Greg Anderson and David Harrison interview Dorji Khandu Thongdok and Lamu Norbu in Thungri village, West Kameng District, Arunachal Pradesh.
Arunachal Pradesh, India 2011 report [pdf]
Photo: Ana Celia Guenteo Rain
Chile 2011 report [pdf]
Photo: Abamu Degio watches a recording of herself
Arunachal Pradesh, India 2010 report [pdf]
Photo: Mark Franco of the Winnemem Wintu consults with linguist Dr. Greg Anderson.
Northern Califonia 2009 report [pdf]
Photo: Felix Andi, Yokoim community leader of Kundiman village, consults with Greg Anderson (left) and David Harrison (center) to translate a Yokoim song. Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea 2009 report [pdf]
Photo: Kafote (Crispulo Martinez) of the Ybytoso Ishir. Puerto Diana, Paraguay
Paraguay 2009 report [pdf]
Photo: Greg Anderson and Ganesh Murmu interview a woman (name withheld) from the Aka tribal group
India March 2008 report [pdf]
Photo: V. M. Gabov, youngest fluent speaker of Chulym, boating on the Chulym River
Central Siberia 2008 report [pdf]
Photo: David Harrison and Greg Anderson with Charlie Mangulda, the last known Amurdag speaker
Australia 2007 report [pdf]

When Languages Die:

The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge.

(2007, Oxford University Press)

"After examining how these diverse populations in unusual corners of the world have over millennia named plants and animals, the author ponders whether significant knowledge about these species is being lost with their names. Both written and oral traditions of storytelling are suffering." Science News 2/11/2007


Kallawaya, Bolivia 2007 report [pdf]

Orissa, India 2005

Ös 2005

Tuva 2003

Tsengel Tuvan 2002

Monchak 2002

Tofa June 2001

Speakers of thousands of the world’s languages are now abandoning their ancestral tongues at an unprecedented rate. What exactly is lost when speakers of indigenous languages switch to speaking English, Hindi, Russian, or other global tongues? And why should we care if small languages vanish?

Building on my fieldwork in Russia, Mongolia, India, the Philippines and Lithuania, and drawing examples from a wide array of threatened or recently vanished languages, this book highlights the complex systems of knowledge embedded in indigenous languages. It illuminates individual faces of language loss, while revealing its global scale.

Languages are the repository of thousands of years of a people’s science and art – from observations of ecological patterns to creation myths. The disappearance of a language is not only a loss for the community of speakers itself, but for our common human knowledge of mathematics, biology, geography, philosophy, agriculture, and linguistics. In this century, we are facing a massive erosion of the human knowledge base.

As the book explores technologies for survival and the languages that communicate them, we are introduced to people such as Aunt Marta, one of the last speakers of the language of the reindeer-herding Tofa people of Siberia; Vasya Gabov, at 54 the youngest speaker of Ös, who, after being pressured into speaking only Russian as a child, invented in secret a writing system for his mother tongue; and Shoydak-ool, a Tuvan storyteller who practices the vanishing art of telling Tuva's traditional epics.

The global abandonment of indigenous languages will bring a massive loss of accumulated knowledge and culture – this book argues for the irreplaceable nature of these unique knowledge systems and the urgency of documenting them before they are lost forever.