A Colombian ethno-linguist has been charged with designing a program to ensure the preservation of the 68 different native languages that exist in Colombia.
“Every time a language dies it is as if the world had many faces and one of them was to vanish forever,” stated the ethno-linguist Jon Landaburu, who is in charge of devising the protection program for the diverse languages spoken by Colombia’s indigenous tribes as well as its Caribbean islanders and people of African descent.
The world recently awoke to a new concern; the extinction of minor languages. Despite having survived centuries with their traditions and culture, an increasing number of communities are succumbing to the overwhelming power of bigger cultural groups and their languages. The likes of English, Spanish and Mandarin are gradually crushing smaller languages into non-existence.
“The situation is difficult because when there is a culture with overpowering superiority over others … parents often do not transmit their mother-tongue to their children and the children learn the language of the conqueror because it will give them advantages,” explained Landaburu in a report by newspaper El Espectador Friday.
According to the ethnolinguist, Colombia has a staggering diversity of dialects which derive from 13 source languages, and authorities have decided to implement a law to protect both the languages and their cultures.
The law is currently being discussed in the Senate by the Ministry of Culture, and Landaburu’s organization expects it to be passed before the end of the year. President Alvaro Uribe is then due to sanction the bill.
Developing a defence mechanism for these languages required working closely with each community. A large survey was therefore conducted of the various communities which enabled researchers to determine that 70% of these ethnic groups – comprising around 1.4 million people – still spoke their own languages.
Some communities, such as the Cuna from the dept of Uraba (where almost 95% of the population still speak the language of their ancestors) told researchers that they had no problems maintaining their dialect and that in fact it was an essential part of their society. However, other groups have all but lost their heritage and ancient dialects are spoken by very few, and mainly elders.
“A language is protected by the people who speak it and the fundamental point is transmission through the family, but the survival of the language also depends on external conditions,” concluded Landaburu, stating that he believes that by nurturing a more positive atmosphere and encouraging use, young people will be more enthusiastic about speaking their native tongue and thus more inclined to continue its transmission.