KIDSGAZETTE

Lost languages and lost worlds

This illustration was created for The Kids Gazette by Ramona Muse Lambert.
This illustration was created for The Kids Gazette by Ramona Muse Lambert.
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11:00AM | Mon, September 21, 2020

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Atlantis is a fictional city, imagined by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. In his dialogues he described a vastly advanced city that sank into the ocean never to be found.

For centuries, Atlantis captured the historical imagination. The ocean is so deep, after all, it could be hiding a great many mysteries. But there is no evidence for the lost city of Atlantis.

This hasn’t stopped centuries of adventure seekers from trying to find it or from conspiracy theorists from insisting it’s real. After Christopher Columbus brought back tales from the Americas, many people thought that was Atlantis.

The reality is there have been a lot of worlds lost to history.

According to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, between 1950 and 2010, 230 of the world’s languages went extinct.

Sometimes, linguists can resurrect or rediscover an extinct language. For example, Latin was once considered dead, but I learned it in college. It is now spoken by scholars and people in the Vatican.

According to the National Geographic, Hebrew was extinct from the fourth century BC to the 1800s. It’s not just words that die when a language dies. It’s the stories and the ideas that are contained and shared by those words. For example, when I learned how to speak Russian in college, I learned that sometimes the word “yellow” in Russian can also refer to mental instability. So, if I’m reading a book in Russian and a writer uses the word yellow to describe a house, it doesn’t just mean that’s the color of the building. It means it’s an asylum.

That’s just a small example. But the words and experiences that we lose every day when these languages are lost mean something.

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The National Geographic explains, “Political persecution, a lack of preservation, and globalization are to blame for the dwindling language diversity. For much of the 20th century, governments across the world have imposed language on Indigenous people, often through coercion. Some 100 aboriginal languages in Australia have disappeared since European settlers arrived. A half-century after China annexed Tibet, dozens of distinct dialects with unique alphabets are on the verge of extinction.”

There is a group called Wikitongues working hard to preserve these languages and the words and the ideas that are carried with them.

But I wonder what secrets we have already lost?

KIDSGAZETTE ARTICLES

11:00AM | Mon, September 21, 2020

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