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I did enjoy this book actually, it s fascinating It is also all over the place.I was expecting some straight up nonfiction languages that are dying out, what is unique to each, etc etc This book isof a memoir Harrison s experiences with last speakers, the difficulties of traveling to them, logistics, why they are the last speakers, etc etc I love me a memoir, but it was so not what I was expecting I would rather read about the languages than about the problems of traveling with cameras when it is 0 F out.Rather than organize the book by continent, or language, or chronologically, or in any other of myriad ways this book could be organized, it is lumped into odd chapters The first two are about his choice of profession and first field experience Siberia, grad school But then we have The Power of Words, Where the Hotspots Are, Finding Hidden Languages, Six Degrees of Language, and yes, fourchapters Not all of these chapters divisions are clear In one chapter you are in Paraguay India Siberia Or Australia Michigan Siberia As soon as he gets going on a good story or example, he bounces on to the next It s like watching children s TV Egads.And bummer, Netflix does not have The Linguists movie, which I do really want to watch. This book is a non fiction account of the author s journeys around the world recording dying languages The stories of the people he encounters and the languages and how they work is very interesting, and I loved that part of the book However, he does a lot of preaching and teaching about linguistics in general, which made parts of the book read like a Masters Thesis It wasn t thick, just kind of boring I think it would have been a better book and reached a bigger audience if he had writtenof the stories of the people and their languages and lives, and less about the discipline of linguistics And I even like linguistics No information that was of any particular interest or use to someone with even a modest linguistics background like myself, just vague descriptions that didn t even make all that much sense without examples And the author could not get over himself He actually devoted half a chapter to discussing a meme he started and how many facebook friends he has That was his most egregious act of self promotion, but the rest of the book was sprinkled well enough to taint. I found this an absolutely fascinating, inspiring tale that truly opened my eyes to one of the planet s scariest phenomena We hear of endangered wildlife and how our modern industrial society is harming the environment We hear of other worrying global issues But, often neglected and hardly publicised, is the very real situation of the reduction in global language diversity Minor languages, often spoken by marginalised tribespeople in remote areas of the Earth, are disappearing into the annals of history or remaining unrecorded as they fade into extinction We are losing human knowledge at a great rate This knowledge has accumulated over a great period of time and has characteristics which simply cannot be translated or encoded into larger,powerful global languages We think that in our modern world, we have an abundance of knowledge and have improved communication The invention of the internet and spread of the English language as the dominant lingua franca for global business gives us a false sense of arrogance and superiority The erosion of ancient knowledge makes us poorer as a global human society, however Harrison elegantly argues the case for the desperate need to preserve and revitalise these strange tongues ion far flung places I think that one of his most valid points in the argument for preservation of language diversity, is that these languages contain critical knowledge of local environments, usually in places which are at most risk of tipping the scale in the imbalance of climate change and environmental degradation which has been demonstrated to affect us all, wherever we may live, and whatever our chosen first language might be The book is intellectual, but accessible It provokes serious thinking and demonstrates the careful study and hard graft put in by researchers and indeed last speakers of the most critically endangered tongues I have close links to Wales and New Zealand which are both leading the way in the mass revitalisation of endangered languages, ie Maori and Welsh The mass education program in schools in both of these countries clearly demonstrates the cultural value inherent in revitalisation efforts and serves as a model to other language hotspots where the loss of culture, knowledge and language is at its most perilous As a student of language, who aims to continue his own understanding of linguistic communication on our planet, I would highly recommend this book which I have given a maximum five star rating. I saw The Last Speakers The Quest to Save the World s Most Endangered Languages by K David Harrison while visiting a public library during a visit last month to Los Angeles I noted the title and requested it via interloan when I got home The fabulous dedicated staff of my library system s Interloans Department found the book and I had it in my hands within four days of my original request Talk about speedy service.My armchair education experience involves studying endangered languages, specifically European Aside from reading about many of these languages, I have spent several years studying two of them in the places where they are still spoken as an everyday language the Sursilvan idiom of Romansch in southeast Switzerland and Breton in Brittany My eye was drawn to The Last Speakers and although its focus was on languages from central Asia and Siberia, South America, and the indigenous languages of North America over those in Europe, it was still a must read Language extinction and itsdramatic synonym, language death can get meworked up and emotional than learning about the extinction of an animal species With a team of linguistic and audio specialists, as well as the all important local guides, Harrison embarked on journeys to document the most endangered languages on the planet He travelled to all the places where these severely endangered languages were still spoken His treks to some western Mongolian and Siberian towns could fill books of their own I am glad to learn that Harrison didn t invade elders homes only to stick microphones in their faces under the command to talk With the help of locals he earned their trust and then tried to capture their speaking patterns in as natural a setting as possible Studies have shown that regardless of who is being recorded, people tend to talkformally and thus artificially if they know that a scientist is recording them What Harrison has discovered in cataloguing the dying vocabularies of the elders is the panoply of knowledge that is at risk of disappearing forever These endangered languages are in many cases not written languages, and when the last speakers die all that the language encompasses dies with them The oral tradition which existed in all languages before the creation of writing systems would cease to be passed on to further generations and the language would indeed die Listening to the elders, I am astonished by how little we know and how vast human knowledge is We find ancient systems of knowledge in many casessophisticated than what modern science knows about the natural world, plants, fish, weather patterns, sea ice, and landscapes We find amusing stories of reindeer, bears and fishes, weather patterns and stars, healing plants, mythical yeti like beasts, and world creating ducks In short, we find a mental catalog of mankind s attempts to make sense of the world and harness its resources for human survival The elders stories often contain a history of the first contact between an indigenous people and colonial Europeans, an encounter that has driven most of the world s languages to the very brink of existence and Efforts to listen to and record small languages and their story traditions deserve our urgent attention This must be accomplished while the elderly storytellers are still talking If tales fall into disuse without being documented, we won t even know what we are losing Some national languages, like Welsh, Irish and Maori, have been successful in their revitalization Hebrew is the most successful revitalization case Yet languages cannot be revived by linguists sticking microphones into people s faces or by foreigners like me trekking off to Laax, Switzerland, in the heart of Romansch country, to learn the language There must be a drive to learn the language from within I have read this time and time again in my research into endangered European languages If there is no intergenerational transmission, the language will die Children must be taught the language as a first or second tongue and continue to use it, not abandon it by the time they enter school where thedominant language is spoken However it is not easy to pass on the language if children have already been schooled in another Harrison writes I have been dismayed to find indifference in the very communities where languages are most threatened, but also heartened to see individuals undertaking heroic efforts to sustain heritage languages An elderly Aboriginal lady, Thelma Sadler, teaches youngsters in western Australia the names for local plants in her Yawuru language Young men in a mountain village in India perform hip hop in Aka, a language spoken by barely a thousand people These language warriors reject the false choice of globalization that says people have to give up small languages and speak only big ones Their resistance gives hope for language revitalization efforts worldwide Yet stating one s desire to learn one s own heritage language is not enough You cannot learn a language by osmosis Johnny Hill, Jr., one of the last speakers of the American First Nations language Chemehuevi, states tearfully Sometimes I cry, he says It s not just the language that s dying, it s the Chemehuevi people themselves Johnny has made efforts to pass the language on to his own children and others in the tribe Trouble is, he explains, they say they want to learn it, but when it comes time to do the work, nobody comes around Harrison, in his analysis of various language revitalization and revival methods, makes the same conclusion that I have encountered and what I personally believe I make no judgments about what works all I am sure of is that a language cannot be saved by outsiders Scientists and other outsiders can assist or enable, but the decision to keep a language alive, and most of the hard work required to implement that decision, must be undertaken by the communities that own and cherish the languages The end of the book lists all the tactics he has encountered and reports on them without prejudice It is difficult to judge them when some methods work in some language areas and identical methods fail in others He ends his book with the following prediction The push back against globalization in the form of language revitalization will be one of the most interesting social trends to observe over the coming decades Its outcome will have profound consequences for the intellectual capacity of our species, and for the state of human knowledge. Fantastic book for anyone interested in language, oral storytelling, environmentalism, and the impact of colonialism and globalization The tragedy of the rapid loss of linguistic diversity is slightly off set by the important work that Harrison and other scholars are doing, not to mention tribal people themselves who are rallying to preserve their languages This book offers an especially important message for those who arrogantly believe that literacy and knowledge are the the same thing or that non literate cultures have nothing to teach those of us whose lives are sadly disconnected from the natural world. This fascinating book, sponsored by the National Geographic Society, describes the plight of a number of threatened languages in various corners of the world, as well as efforts to save them.The book s author, David Harrison, is a young linguist whose focus is on documenting, recording and studying and possibly saving endangered languages He does this by traveling to the furthest reaches of Mongolia, Siberia, Papua New Guinea or Paraguay, tracking down the often octogenarian last surviving speakers of a local language, and interviewing them at length With the help of recordings and videotapes, his team creates a record of languages that may be just a few dozen speakers away from being silenced forever.In the best National Geographic tradition, the book is part travelogue, part anthropology, and part missionary zeal The travel parts were fun to read for armchair travelers Flying to Mongolia in a decrepit Soviet area plane, or navigating down a dangerous river in the rain forest of South America, living with nomads in their yurts all good stuff The anthropology parts, about shamans and rituals, were also fascinating The zeal part, where the author makes an impassioned plea to save endangered languages, was a bit overpowering I don t disagree with his argument that the local languages of so called primitive spots on the globe contain a wealth of information about the natural world that we could put to good use in these times of pollution, deforestation and global warming I totally agree with the statement that being bilingual may be as good for your brain as doing Sudoku puzzles But the same arguments and statements, and the parallel between endangered species and languages, were trotted out quite repetitively in the course of the book.The author does seem rather full of himself, and is very liberal with references to my team and my idea and the term I coined Being a bit of a language geek, I liked the parts about language itself best The author had chosen his examples with care I found it fascinating to read about the many ways in which new words or concepts can be expressed For instance, in some villages close to a river, the usual way of saying where you are going is not by saying I am going to x , but by saying I am upstreaming to X And if you find yourself on a different part of the bank, you would say I am downstreaming to X Another language has several words that we would just translate by the word to stand , depending on who is standing Another language has several words to describe reindeers or yurts of various ages, reproductive status, fur color and other parameters The descriptions of field work in the linguistics field made for great reading The author seems to have been involved in in depth, multi week visits to specific regions, as well as in some shorter visits to various language hotspots around the globe I think that the scientific value of these fly in and fly out visits is probably limited but they seem to have been conceptualizedas a dramatic way of drawing attention to the risk of losing endangered languages, than as an encyclopedic exercise Still, I found it fun to read about how the team would try to track down the last speakers of a specific language and try to coax them into speaking For the author, it s not just about the language, but also about the content of the knowledge that is passed on in that language Whether it is a story about navigating the inhospitable tundra, or about a girl being sold as a bride, or about aboriginal creation myths, this is not the stuff you find in most books about language I also found it interesting to read how some languages survive and others don t The recurring refrain is that the younger generation has typically been taught to speak in English, Russian, English or some other language, and that they have been made to feel that there is some shame associated with speaking a primitive language Older people tell of having been punished in school for speaking their own language And yet, there is also a special language for male shamans in one tribe, a language that is not learned at birth, but acquired in adolescence, when a young male is selected for training as a shaman Or there is a language that flourishes in the middle of Mexico City, hidden in plain sight in a bustling Spanish speaking metropolis Or a language that is spoken by some members of the family but not others, a language that is so secret that often the speakers in one isolated village don t know who in the next village might speak the same language In summary, although the message that endangered languages are in need of, and deserving of, being saved, is rammed home a couple of times too often, this is an engrossing book, a real treat for anyone interested in language, communication, or even plain old armchair traveling. My feelings about this book are somewhat complicated, but not because of anything that is in the book itself The book itself is an excellent one, but the context that book is in is a troubling one For one, this book is a somewhat obvious cash grab on the part of National Geographic to take advantage of the unexpected popular success and critical acclaim of the documentary film The Linguists, which explored the author and some of the speakers of nearly extinct languages he sees around the world For another, National Geographic has a well earned reputation for putting out crappy material 1 , and probably did not want to let any opportunity go to try to build some credibility with those who are genuinely fond of linguistics and geography And so this enjoyable book has a giant National Geographic logo and the author talks about his career as ways of giving an overrated organization some credibility, which is at least a bit disappointing for those of us who are fond of obscure areas of linguistics 2 Still, despite the fact that I dislike the commercial context of the book, I will not hold that against the author himself or the interesting subject matter discussed here.The contents of this book read like a memoir of sorts for a linguist who does not consider himself a polyglot despite admitting that he can work with somewhere in the range of a dozen languages, many of them extremely obscure The author takes aor less chronological trip through his life in linguistics to its beginnings in his missionary kid background, his discovery of his calling in Tuva, his discussion about the power of the words in describing very extensive local conditions, his discussion of the hotspots of linguistic discovery, how one goes about finding hidden languages like the Koro language of India, the complexity of languages in areas like Papua New Guinea, difficulty of helping to preserve stories many of them various heathen myths in other cultures, the beauty of songs in some languages, the process by which only a few isolated people remember dying languages, and the attempts of the author to legitimize his efforts in preserving dying languages At the base of his interesting experiences and the heartwarming stories of the mostly elderly last speakers whose traumatic early childhood stories are locked in languages that hardly anyone else can understand is a somewhat dubious set of assumptions.And it is these dubious assumptions regarding worldview that keep this book from being as good as it could be The author s interest in exploring heathen myths about propitiating evil spirits and at least one of the songs explicitly mentions these spirits as demons 3 isthan a little bit troubling and casts into doubt the whole viability of the author s enterprise To be sure, it is tragic to lose the detailed local knowledge that is often embedded in obscure languages, and those aspects of language that help people better understand and deal appropriately with their world are worth preserving either in an obscure language or acommonly spoken one In such cases the preservation of knowledge should encourage a language to beprestigious In other cases, though, what is being preserved is demon worship and other kinds of practice, and the world would do a lot better without that sort of diversity The author, because he operates under mistaken premises, ends up unintentionally making the case that the expenditure of scarce money and resources for his linguistic projects all too often only goes to preserve heathen culture that is better off extinct and never again called to mind, rather than to preserve useful and beneficial knowledge for humanity as a whole To be sure, that was not his intent, though 1 See, for example 2 See, for example 3 See, for example Masters of Kurbustug s world, come here, come here Masters of skies, let us be as equals and friends I am a woman of pure ancestry, not like you,I want to be useful to the devils and demons 218. Part Travelogue And Part Scientist S Notebook, The Last Speakers Is The Poignant Chronicle Of Author K David Harrison S Expeditions Around The World To Meet With Last Speakers Of Vanishing Languages The Speakers Eloquent Reflections And Candid Photographs Reveal Little Known Lifeways As Well As Revitalization Efforts To Teach Disappearing Languages To Younger Generations Thought Provoking And Engaging, This Unique Book Illuminates The Global Language Extinction Crisis Through Photos, Graphics, Interviews, Traditional Wisdom Never Before Translated Into English, And First Person Essays That Thrillingly Convey The Adventure Of Science And Exploration The linguist K David Harrison has been one of the most tireless activists for protecting the world s diversity of languages, some 7,000 or so by his count, but disappearing at a rapid rate through globalization He wrote an impassioned argument for language preservation in WHEN LANGUAGES DIE, and the recent documentary film THE LINGUISTS about his work has won great praise Harrison s new book THE LAST SPEAKERS is something of a combination of these two previous accounts written for a very broad audience On one hand, it s a print account of the fun of doing fieldwork and working with small language communities as in the film, while on the other hand Harrison repeats his scholarly arguments for language diversity in a simpler,straightforward fashion Having received a review copy, my opinions are a bit mixed.For the general public, I suppose this can be a quick read its 250 pages or so go by fast and an often fun one Harrison explains pretty clear what it s like to be a linguist, at least a field oriented one Linguists, Harrison explains, aren t simply people who speak a lot of languages , or interpreters or translators Rather, they are scientists, and their explorations are best carried out not among dusty bookstacks, but with communities that are united around a language Good fieldwork, Harrison says, means immersing yourself in the daily lives of speakers Thus we hear some amusing anecdotes about slaughtering a sheep with a nomad family, or hearing the blue guitar music of a young person in Papua New Guinea.This book repeats much of WHEN LANGUAGE DIES, and I was sad to see that it repeats some of the flawed argumentation of that prior volume Namely, Harrison makes a case for action against language death by holding that traditional languages pass down useful knowledge through the generations simply by being used, and this knowledge is lost through adopting an outside language He speaks of languages where names for months are tied to the agriculture or hunting cycle, and thus native speakers grow up with a knowledge of the natural world, but some speakers have given up their traditional calendars and use only the Western one However, ultimately this loss of knowledge isn t necessarily due to language shift, but to other political and social pressures The same forces which encourage language shift, such as industrialization and urbanization, are those which tend to replace traditional ways of life altogether When people are living in large blocks of flats in the city, going to work in offices or factories, is the traditional calendar anymeaningful than the new one Indeed, Harrison notes in this book that a Siberian Turkic population he studies, who herd reindeer and have an abundant lexicon for their way of life, had previously used some other, unknown language and switched to Turkic possibly only a couple of centuries ago Clearly language shift happened in that context without a loss of information, because these people keep going on herding reindeer efficiently The problem of loss of information is therefore not language shift in itself.Still, even if I don t agree with some points, I think this book could be profitably read by almost everyone The amount of repetition makes it seem like bad value, but some may find it a worthwhile purchase I d even cautiously recommend it to actual linguists in the hope that it would encourage thesedentary researchers to go out and do fieldwork It s fun