The title of this post says,“The official language of the Pitcairn Islands is Pitkern,” which you can more or less understand if you read it out loud. That is, if you speak English, of course. Pitkern is a language spoken by only 500 people who live on the islands of Pitcairn and Norfolk in the South Pacific and it is one of many languages that are disappearing. According to UNESCO, half of the existing 7,000 languages in this world will die out by the end of this century. Approximately every two weeks an existing spoken language will disappear. Some of them cease to exist because there will be no one to speak them, as happened to Klallam last February, when 103-year-old Hazel Simpson died. But Pitkern, and many languages like it, are dying for another reason: because they are being surrounded and gradually absorbed by dominant languages like English. Being from Slovenia, a country of 2 million where English is widely used, I think about the survival of my native language’s unique landscape and vivid expressions. (How about “eating life with a big spoon”?) With every dead language, the world loses four big things: linguistic diversity, intellectual diversity, cultural diversity and cultural identity. While Pitkern is only 200 years old, its disappearance is still a cultural loss, argued James Harbeck in his article on endangered languages last month. And if Pitkern and Klallam are worth protecting, what shall we do to avoid the disappearance of languages that are even richer and more important for cultural diversity? Consider the Australian Aboriginal languages in which time and place are described by cardinal directions rather than personal perspective, or the Yélî Dnye language, in which metaphors alone are used to describe colors?
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