Turkey’s language activists keep Armenian dialect alive in music, literature

February 24th, 2020 by His most recent album sung in Homshetsi can be taken as an SOS call, says Hikmet Akcicek. The tongue, a northwestern dialect of Western Armenian, is one of 15 endangered languages spoken in Turkey — and Akcicek’s band Vova means to keep it alive. The cover of the band's July record, “Garmi Doc” (“Red Truck” in Homshetsi), shows a woman in red traditional clothing. For Akcicek, it's a chance to showcase his culture and mother tongue, spoken in the mountainous northeastern Black Sea region of Turkey, and becoming extinct for a combination of reasons. “Every kid born in Hopa [a town in Artvin province in the northeastern Black Sea region] would first learn Homshetsi, use it in daily life and marry a fellow Homshetsi. Now, kids learn Turkish first thing, and their daily lives are dominated by Turkish,” Akcicek told Al-Monitor. He added that since the 1980s, many of the Homshetsi (or Hemshin) people from the coastline along Rize’s Ikizdere county up to the Georgian border — have moved to big cities. For various reasons, many of them have migrated from the region to other Turkish provinces such as Sakarya and Erzurum or abroad to Russia, Abkhazia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Akcicek said, “Like many local languages, Homshetsi and its culture are fading.” Read more: Al-Monitor

Don’t assume language or dialect is locked to a particular place

August 29th, 2018 by In an age of globalisation with unprecedented levels of mobility and communication, the world is often described as a “global village”. But this metaphor has implications for how we understand the geographical place around us. There are clearly emotional meanings connected to the concept of place. An expression such as “do you want to come to my place?” refers to place as a space we own and belong to. When we refer to someone feeling “out of place”, we’re usually referring to their lack of ability to fit in or adjust. But place has a national meaning, too. Our national ideologies are reinforced every day by little reminders and signals – for example, when we’re reminded of our geographical location by looking at the map on a weather forecast or when football commentators refer to “we” when commenting on their home team. This is something the social psychologist Michael Billig called “banal nationalism”. These little reminders reproduce a national ideology that links a geographical place with an imagined community called a nation – be that France, England or Germany. Because nation states have been a common political structure in Europe since before World War I, place has historically been associated with the geopolitical borders between countries and is now firmly linked to nationality and citizenship of a particular country. It’s because of this that connections have tended to be made between nations and their languages. Back in 1794, during the French revolution, Bertrand Barère, a prominent member of the National Convention said that: “For a free people the language must be one and the same for all.” A similar message was found in a 1919 letter by the American president, Theodore Roosevelt, who said: “We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language.” Many nationalists believe that a nation state should ideally be a monolingual entity. The “one language one nation” ideology underpins loyalty to an “imagined, homogeneous” nation and subsumes a rather monolithic cultural and linguistic life. A more recent example was the call by the UK government’s former integration tsar, Louise Casey, to set a deadline by which everybody in the UK should speak English. While English is of course important for communication and relationship building, such a proposal ignores the multilingualism and hyper-diversity that characterise urban centres in the UK. Read more: The Conversation

How music is keeping one southern Italian dialect alive

April 28th, 2017 by The historic dialect of Southern Italy, spoken by the Griko people, is on the verge of extinction. However, it's still alive - largely thanks to the music associated with it. Also known as Salentino-Calabrian Greek, Griko or Italiot Greek is an umbrella-term for two distinctive dialects: Griko, spoken in Salento, and Calabrian Greek, still present in Southern Calabria. Both dialects are usually referred to simply as 'Griko'. Partially intelligible with Modern Greek, its exact origins are unclear even to academics with expertise in the area. Historians and linguists have put forward several hypotheses, linking the dialects with Ancient Greece and Magna Grecia or with the Byzantine Empire, but none of these theories has been proven. But wherever its Greek-ness came from, Griko has also been heavily influenced by the Italian Language, and speakers use both the Greek and Latin alphabets. Read more: The Local

Venetians push for their dialect to be recognised as a language ahead of referendum on autonomy from Rome

December 4th, 2016 by Once a formidable trading power in the Mediterranean and beyond, Venice is seeking to regain some of its long-lost autonomy by having its distinctive dialect recognised as an official language. Known in its heyday as La Serenissima Repubblica- The Most Serene Republic – Venice and its surrounding region was independent for nearly 1,000 years, until it was overrun by Napoleonic troops and ceded to Austria at the end of the 18th century. Venice only became part of Italy in 1866 – five years after the kingdom was created out of a patchwork of independent states and territories. A century and a half on, there are increasingly strident calls for greater autonomy from the government in Rome. A small but vocal minority are even calling for independence from Italy altogether, dubbed “Venexit”, with some Venetians drawing inspiration from Scotland and Catalonia’s drive for independence and Britain’s vote to leave the EU. On Tuesday the regional government of Veneto, which encompasses Venice, will debate a motion to make the Venetian dialect an official language, giving it similar status to that of German in the Italian mountain province of South Tyrol. Read more: Telegraph

The Disappearing Dialect at the Heart of China’s Capital

November 24th, 2016 by BEIJING — To the untutored ear, the Beijing dialect can sound like someone talking with a mouthful of marbles, inspiring numerous parodies and viral videos. Its colorful vocabulary and distinctive pronunciation have inspired traditional performance arts such as cross-talk, a form of comic dialogue, and “kuaibanr,’’ storytelling accompanied by bamboo clappers. But the Beijing dialect is disappearing, a victim of language standardization in schools and offices, urban redevelopment, and migration. In 2013, officials and academics in the Chinese capital began a project to record the dialect’s remaining speakers before it fades away completely. The material is to be released to the public as an online museum and interactive database by year’s end. Read more: NY Times