Language is a powerful cultural and political tool which provides a major cultural unity in many countries. Poetry conceptualises and unites cultures and thoughts, manipulates ordinary language and in its effortless simplicity and diversity, touches minds and souls. A recent podcast by The Guardian explores the measures taken to preserve endangered languages globally through poetry, sparked by the fact that one language dies every two weeks.
The podcast discusses the decline in minority languages such as those indigenous to New Zealand, but by contrast countries like Belarus whose minority language still survives Russian Soviet regimes. Here in the UK, we are facing an institutionalised resistance to learning languages in our schools entirely. So what exactly does it mean for a language to die, and how is poetry attempting to save this situation?
During secondary education I had only ever sat through one lesson on endangered languages, and remember just one episode on TV about the indigenous British languages. It is so rarely talked about in our schools and society and yet there are around 14 languages indigenous to Britain, including Manx and Cornish. We seem accustomed to the presence of the Welsh language and in Scotland and Ireland, Gaelic and Irish still form a vital part of society and identity. Although most of these languages are in some form of decline in a global sense, there is a far more pressing and immediate danger to minority languages and cultures elsewhere in the world.
When a language dies, a cultural connection, a history, and a way of thinking is erased. For many languages of the past, the erasure was brought about by an institutionalised political assimilation. The political enforcement of an outside culture often meant that the practice of indigenous languages was made illegal and this loss became more profound due to the vulnerability of those forced to conform.
Read more: The Boar