Language documentation has been one of the most ignored forms of cultural heritage especially in countries facing wars like South Sudan. Unlike saving lives, a language is endangered slowly and unknowingly.
We are going to look at extinct as well as endangered languages in South Sudan. But before, let’s first look at what is happening around the world. Is language endangerment or extinction only happening in South Sudan only or even the rest of the world?
According to Emily Underwood of Huffingpost, about 7000 known world languages are disappearing faster than the species on earth. With a different language dying every two week, this is a global phenomenon to according to researchers.
Even though smaller or minority group are usually exposed to external threats this does not necessarily means that endangered language is a language with few speakers. The endangerment and extinction of a language is down to attitude of the speakers toward their cultural heritage. In essence, Suruaha, a small Indian community tribe in the Amazonian consists of 150 members and presently, they still hold onto their language.
So what makes a language gets extinct?
One of the underlining problems of languages is that most are not recorded or analyzed by linguists, have no dictionaries or even written form. In other instances, a language may not be recognized officially in the country hence likely to face extinction.
Other causes of language extinction
- War and genocide
- Natural disasters, famine and diseases
- Economic, cultural, political marginalization/hegemony
Examples of these causes in the world today
- Natural catastrophes, famine, disease: for example, Malol, Papua New Guinea (earthquake); Andaman Islands (tsunami)
- War and genocide, for example, Tasmania (genocide by colonists); Brazilian indigenous peoples (disputes over land and resource); El Salvador (civil war)
- Overt repression, e.g. for ‘national unity’ (including forcible resettlement): for example, Kurdish, Welsh, Native American languages
- Cultural/political/economic dominance, for example, Ainu, Manx, Sorbian, Quechua and many others.(synthesised from Nettle & Romaine 2000; Crystal, 2000)
Having looked at causes and examples; now let’s look at 3 extinct languages in South Sudan. According to 2011 stats, South Sudan consists of 60 indigenous ethnic groups and is linguistically partitioned to 80. Check out this information on about South Sudan page.
The extinct languages in South Sudan are:
Languages that are presently endangered in South Sudan
- Boguru, Aja, Mangayat and Banda
- Indri, Njalgulgule, Bonga and Lokoya
Researchers approximate that 17 languages are endangered and the above are few known.
Solutions to language endangerment
Losing a language does not necessarily means that people won’t be able to communicate but rather it’s the prestige of a community’s identification which is being conserved. Most experts claim that minority speakers mostly consider their language to be old-fashioned hence cannot be used either by them or by future generations. In addition, some communities find their heritage languages threatened and therefore resort to adapt.
The speakers themselves, linguists and policy makers should be involved in the orthography of that particular language.
In Africa, the loss of speakers in one language is usually the gain of speakers of another language. Language documentation, maintenance and education should be done now to avoid others languages getting extinct in South Sudan.