25 September 2007

The Falling Tower Of Babel

There was a recent Associated Press article on languages disappearing from the earth. One of the consequences of our flat earth where someone sitting in End of the Road, Alabama can play bridge with someone in Who Knew It Was There, Romania, is that local dialects, patois, and pidgens start to disappear. Then whole languages begin to go away as the generation coming up no longer wants or needs to speak the language of their elders.

We are fast approaching a time when there may only be five or six languages spoken by huge populations. We are already down to less than 20 languages spoken by more than 50 million each. In many ways, this may be a good thing. What can be bad about being able to communicate easily with everyone you meet? Unfortunately, it means the loss of a totally unique heritage and with it many of the myths, folk tales, religious practices and wisdom of the past. English is well on its way to becoming a universal language: The "Public" language of all business. When it is combined with one or two other major languages, you will soon be able to go around the world easily without having to resort to a translator.

There is now a whole career field dedicated to preserving the world's endangered languages, particularly those of indiginous native populations. Language is one of the binders that holds a society together, but there may come a time when there are no longer speakers of the original language. At least they will be recorded, written, and preserved. These scientists will have to work fast. There is only one speaker of Amurday and three each in Magati Ke and Yawuru.

There may never be another "Porgy and Bess" simply because the language in it, while transformed to clearer English for the benefit of the audience, was based in its pronounciations and tonality on Gullah, an American patois drawn from African, Portuguese, and English words and isolated on the Sea Islands of the Carolinas. It was used by Debose Heyward in his story "Porgy". The history of this great Ameican operatic piece is fascinating. Gershwin went down stay with Debose and actually lived where he could hear the Sea Island language. While there are still many Gullah speakers and strong efforts being made to ensure its survival, it clearly shows that while communication is a good thing, the price you pay for the loss of a language might be very high.

Bess Yo Is My Woman Now, "Porgy and Bess"

Gullah Festival Weekend


Matt-Man said...

As long as Pig Latin stays around, I'll be happy.

Jamie said...

atwhay idday ooya aysay?

Linda said...

I had never thought about this before probably because no one seems to speak English in America anymore. You would not believe the number of 911 calls that I get where I cannot for the life of me understand what the person on the other end is saying. It makes it very difficult sometimes.