Thursday, 24 February 2011

Venezuelan tongues (II)

Imagine you burnt a Library of Alexandria every so many months. Well: that is the kind of information we are losing with the disappearance of so many languages all over the world.

A language is not just an alternative to express the same things. A language is a very complex system people use to shape universal and unique ideas, ideas that in turn reshape the system. A language is a world in itself. Take a look at this riveting video from The Guardian:

Venezuela's main language by far is Spanish. That has been the case for probably 400 years now. Still, there are still many languages spoken by the First Nations. Most of them are under threat.

The present map shows the main native American languages still spoken today in Venezuela:

The main language families are the Arawak family (Wayuu and Warekena, Kurripako and Piapoko) and the Caribe family (like Pemon, Yekuana, Yukpa and Panare). Pemon and Yekuana are like Spanish and French or perhaps Spanish and Romanian. Pemon and Arawak languages are as far apart to each other as possible. And then there are several languages that stand alone. They are like Basque: there is nothing around like them. One of them is Warao and another is Uruak.

Warao is a language still spoken by about 20000 to 30000 people in the Delta. Uruak is a language that is probably extint or about to become extint at this very moment. There are several other languages that are on the verge of extinction in Venezuela. Uruak and Sapé are some of them.

Some two years ago the Venezuelan government finally approved the creation of the Instituto Nacional de Idiomas Indígenas. It exists on paper alone. The laws on promotion of the native American languages have been implemented only so far. We need more than just letting children sing the national anthem in a couple of those languages or to finance for just some time a couple of programmes for children to learn to write some lists of words in their parents' language.

If the government or private organisations wanted to spend just some dozens of thousands of dollars -less than what you need for a fancy jeep-, there would be enough to save one Library of Alexandria and a lot of our unique cultural wealth. We have several Libraries of Alexandria in Venezuela and they are burning right now.

Ps. I have written a bit on native languages in Venezuela in Wikipedia and you can read some of it from here


  1. I read this article:
    Almost eighty percent of the world speaks one percent of existing languages. There are so many 'small ' languages, tucked away in just such small nations and cultures, that one disappears every two weeks. When the last person who mastered a language dies, the language dies with him. That is why National Geographic opened the Enduring Voices Project.

  2. Hoi! Bedankt voor je bezoek!

    And thanks for the link. Indeed, a lot is lost month after month. The international community has at very least enough resources to document well those languages that are most endangered.

    Unfortunately, resources are not going where they should.

    Of course, I also think language experts could do a little bit more PR about what kind of wealth we have in every language


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