The seminar will focus on some of the world's most endangered languages

Jurek d. (Flickr Creative Commons)

Focus on endangered languages

Matt Pickles

Do you want to learn more about Csango, Frisian and Kelabit?

An Oxford University seminar series starting next week aims to raise awareness of some of the world’s most endangered languages.

The free public seminars will take place at 5.15pm every Wednesday from 19 October to 23 November. A different language will be discussed each week, led by an academic expert.

Dr Johanneke Sytsema, of the Taylor Institution Library and the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology & Phonetics at Oxford University, has organised the series. She says that many of the world’s 7,000 languages are spoken by a small number of people and in danger of becoming extinct. This could have some worrying consequences.

‘For the speakers, this means loss of identity:  being a speaker of a certain small language gives a sense of belonging, of identity that speakers wouldn’t like to lose,’ she says.

‘From a linguist’s point of view, language loss means loss of interesting and possibly unique linguistic structures. For example, some languages have a five base numeral system, which means that ‘six’ is ‘five one’, ‘seven’ is ‘five two’ etc.; there is no separate word for ‘six’ or ‘seven’.

‘Losing such structures robs the world of linguistic beauty, just like losing coral reefs means a loss of natural beauty.’

19 October – Hrusso Aka (India)

26 October – Frisian (Netherlands)

2 November – Csango (Romania)

9 November – Aragonese (Spain)

16 November – Kashubian and Slovincian (Poland)

23 November – Kelabit (Indonesia)

The seminars will take place in the Taylor Institution Library, one of the Bodleian Libraries, and each will be followed by a display of relevant books from the library.