Languages are an essential element of human identity and culture. Language offers a means of communication, an archive of shared knowledge and history. It reflects society's values and traditions.
This vibrant tapestry faces a grave threat. Languages that aren't passed down to the next generation are slipping away.
Recent findings are sobering: we are losing languages. We are losing linguistic diversity. Unless we take decisive action, these windows into history will close.
Deciphering grammar: a linguistic puzzle
Grammar is the foundation of language. It dictates what constitutes a valid sentence and what constitutes gibberish. Tense is a mandatory feature in English. To construct a well-formed sentence, the temporal context must be stated. An English sentence devoid of tense sacrifices grammar.
However, this linguistic rule does not apply globally. Hokkaido Ainu is an indigenous language of Japan. Speakers can omit explicit temporal markers. For example, already or tomorrow. This doesn't compromise grammar. As the renowned anthropologist Franz Boas observed:
"Grammar […] determines those aspects of each experience that must be expressed."
Grambank: a linguistic tapestry
Grambank is a collective effort of a global team of linguists. Over several years, they compiled a database. They pored over language grammar books. They engaged with experts and community members.
The task was arduous. Grammatical systems across languages exhibit vast variations. And the descriptions of these rules often differ. This makes it challenging to decipher linguistic jargon from diverse sources.
Preserving our linguistic heritage
Language holds profound significance in human existence. It shapes our identities and provides a gateway to ancestral wisdom. Sadly, the world's indigenous languages are facing an existential threat. This is due to colonisation and globalisation.
The loss of a single language inflicts severe damage. Especially to the well-being of indigenous individuals and communities. It severs their ties to their ancestry and traditional knowledge.
Preserving grammatical diversity
Grambank unveils a captivating array of linguistic structures across the globe. It's a testament to human ingenuity and adaptability.
They used an ecological measure of diversity. Then they assessed the foreseen loss of grammatical diversity. The findings show certain regions will be severely affected.
South America and Australia stand to lose something precious. Their entire indigenous linguistic diversity. All indigenous languages in these regions are endangered. Even regions with relatively secure languages. Such as the Pacific, Southeast Asia, and Europe, could decline by around 25%.
The path forward
We need sustained efforts to revitalise endangered languages. Otherwise, communities will suffer irreparable harm. Our shared linguistic window into human history will fragment.
The UN has stepped in. They've declared the period 2022-2032 as the Decade of Indigenous Languages. This signals a global commitment to language preservation.