Some of the loneliest languages

Dispatches from (but not in) dying tongues. The author’s book 1000 Languages is presumably much more inclusive but, if the lone Amazon.com reviewer’s to believed, heavier on anecdote than thoroughness and fact-checking, alas.

5. Yuchi

Yuchi is spoken in Oklahoma, USA, by just five people all aged over 75. Yuchi is an isolate language (that is, it cannot be shown to be related to any other language spoken on earth). Their own name for themselves is Tsoyaha, meaning “Children of the Sun”. Yuchi nouns have 10 genders, indicated by word endings: six for Yuchi people (depending on kinship relations to the person speaking), one for non-Yuchis and animals, and three for inanimate objects (horizontal, vertical, and round). Efforts are now under way to document the language with sound and video recordings, and to revitalise it by teaching it to children.

6. Oro Win

The Oro Win live in western Rondonia State, Brazil, and were first contacted by outsiders in 1963 on the headwaters of the Pacaas Novos River. The group was almost exterminated after two attacks by outsiders and today numbers just 50 people, only five of whom still speak the language. Oro Win is one of only five languages known to make regular use of a sound that linguists call “a voiceless dental bilabially trilled affricate”. In rather plainer language, this means it’s produced with the tip of the tongue placed between the lips which are then vibrated (in a similar way to the brrr sound we make in English to signal that the weather is cold).

7. Kusunda

The Kusunda are a former group of hunter-gatherers from western Nepal who have intermarried with their settled neighbours. Until recently it was thought that the language was extinct but in 2004 scholars at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu located eight people who still speak the language. Another isolate, with no connections to other languages.


from “Top 10 endangered languages,” by Peter K. Austin, guardian.co.uk, 27 August 2008 :: via languagehat.com

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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