I was up in Dharamsala last year and saw Gadi dances and songs performed at the Tibetan Children’s Village’s celebrations. I also stayed in a small village called Dharumkot in the house of a Gadi family. The Gadi are a small tribe of Hindu nomadic sheep herders who are settling more and more and who are loosing their language. One of the AirJaldi folks who hosted us during the workshop is also a Gadi working along Tibetan refugees to set up and maintain the mesh network for the school, and I have never seen a better smile or more joie de vivre!
I can’t imagine a people loosing their language entirely. Also while in India I met some Naga youth living in New Delhi. Because they are living away from home to attend university they wind up forgettting their language as they do not get the opportunity to speak it often enough. When Nagas do get together, at least this group anyway, they played team scrabble in their own language in order to remember.
My French is not what it should be as I have been immersed in English culture for such a long time. I could not even undertake to write an academic paper in French right now, yet I live in a context where I have easy access to the language. I try to listen to French Radio, watch movies without subtitles etc. But that is not enough! Imagine a people who have no media in their own languages, no curricula in the schools, no books, TV, radio, comic books, maps, famous personalies, movies, and instead have songs, stories but with the sad fact that they have the ability to speak to a shrinking few.
I was involved in a debate about public funding for private religious schools as a means to preserve culture. I think having access to ones own language is far more important for cultural preservation and wish we had more resources toward ensuring that all or our kids spoke more than two languages when they graduate from high school.
I came across the Enduring Voices Project from the NYTime article Languages Die, but Not Their Last Words where a group of linguists are travelling the globe documenting disapearing languages. What if community radio could have school lessons broadcast to the farm fields while the kids were working as opposed to taking them from their homes for an education. The Tibetan Refugee community in India has done really well at heritage, cultural, religious and linguistic preservation. The Tibetan Children Villages have a clear mandate to ensure that the children of their community are not involved in child labour activities and that each has access to the best education possible for both the survival of the community and for their long term well being. I was most impressed to see how a small group scattered around India could do this. The school in Dharamsala was such a joy.
At the Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre where I work we are starting to do some really excellent work in Nunavut to create interactive place names modules for Atlases. The Kitikmeot Place Name Atlas is a fantastic use of maps, narrative, story telling which incorporates multimedia into maps and having place names articulated in Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun including place names of the region, their pronounciations, meanings and associated oral traditions. This work will ensure that the region’s place names will continue to be known to future generations of Nunavummiut.
I hope that someday I can contribute more to this type of work and to find ways to show this type of data in a useful and meaningful way.