‘I think they might be backward.’
This was the damning verdict of the health visitor on discovering that my twin sister and I, aged two, were resolutely refusing to speak a proper language (ie English), and were instead babbling away in some incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo. My mother knew better. Like endless sets of twins around the world, we had simply come up with our own language, in which we were perfectly fluent and happy, thank you very much. The rest of the family managed to decipher enough to know what we wanted – and given that that was the extent of our two-year-old world, why bother with anything else? When we went to school, we were put into separate classes and inevitably picked up the far inferior language our peers were speaking. And our own twin-speak soon died out.
This, in a microcosm, is what is happening to the vast majority of the 7,000 languages currently spoken around the world, which struggle against political and cultural assimilation, fall out of favour or are beaten into obscurity. Many linguists believe their fate is sealed, and that within two centuries, we’ll all be speaking the same language. But all is not yet lost – as our Big Story this month reveals.
Also in this issue, we highlight a theatre making waves in Afghanistan by encouraging people to act out their trauma. And Lydia James investigates the shocking – and growing – phenomenon of food waste, and offers some ingenious ways to stop our leftovers ending up in landfill.
Jo Lateu for the New Internationalist co-operative.
Jo Lateu explains why the world's minority languages matter for all of us - and why we should be fighting for their survival.
Under the benign gaze of King Juan Carlos, I am listening to three Galicians speaking animatedly about their language and what it means to them. There is a certain irony in the fact that we are gathered beneath a portrait of the king, at the Spanish Institute on the outer reaches of London’s Portobello Road. For all his benevolent condescension and charming smile, Juan Carlos represents the Spanish state, which, in the eyes of many fighting for Galician rights, is the enemy.
Half of the 200 indigenous languages spoken in Australia before the British arrived have died and fewer than 20 are being taught to the next generation. But Katrina Power is one of those busy bucking the trend.
Encouraging people to act out their trauma results not just in empathy but in action. Hjalmar Jorge Joffre-Eichhorn has witnessed the transformation first hand.