Cultural survival and mother tongues

The languages of minority groups are often swamped by the language of the majority. Sometimes the erasure of minority languages is deliberate government policy; other times it's more subtle. And yet, it's possible for a nation-state to embrace multiple languages. Below are just a few examples of efforts to preserve and encourage indigenous or minority languages.

Header image: Wikimedia commons photo of Guatemalan textiles.

  • Sasiwaans Immersion School

    Like the Akwesasne Freedom School described below, Sasiwaans aims to preserve and promote a Native American language--namely, Anishinabemowin--the Ojibwe language. Sasiwaans is a much newer school, founded in 2009. Read or listen to more from Michigan Public Radio, or visit the school's website here.

    Photo by Emily Fox, Michigan Public Radio
  • Present Tense: A student film on language and schooling in Zanzibar

    Educated in Swahili in elementary school, students are expected to continue their studies in upper school in English, a language they don't understand, taught by teachers who barely know the language either. With the help of a retired pilot, Yakubu Fimbo Suleiman and his friends made a film about the problem. It won first place at the EYE Want Change film festival--and better yet, the Zanzibar government announced it will change the language of secondary instruction to Swahili. Read more here. See the film here.
  • A Loss for Words: A 2015 New Yorker article on language survival

    "A Loss for Words," by Judith Thurman, covers different attempts to preserve and even resurrect languages, and the difficulties such efforts face. Read more here.

    Illustration for the New Yorker by Stephen Doyle
  • Cultural Survival: an organization devoted to protecting precarious cultures

    Cultural Survival partners with indigenous peoples to protect their lands, languages, and cultures; educate their communities about their rights; and fight against their marginalization, discrimination, exploitation, and abuse. Visit the organization's website here.

    Image from Cultural Survival's page on mines that threaten the sacred site of the Wixárika people, in Mexico.
  • Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages

    The Living Tongues Institute's mission is "to promote the documentation, maintenance, preservation, and revitalization of endangered languages worldwide through linguist-aided, community-driven multi-media language documentation projects." Among these projects are talking dictionaries, which make it possible for anyone with an internet connection to hear, and potentially learn, vocabulary from endangered languages all over the world.
  • Akwesasne Freedom School

    In 1979, an independent school was born in the Akwesasne Mohawk community, which spans the US-Canadian border at New York State and the Province of Quebec. Students there speak and learn entirely in the Mohawk tongue. Mushkeg Media has made a documentary about it: Kanien'kehaka - Living the Language

    Image from the Freedom School's website.
  • Timor-Leste's approach to early education

    Timor-Leste, one of the world's newest nations, has two official languages (Tetun and Portuguese), but many regional languages. The Ministry of Education in Timor-Leste has embraced the notion of instruction in children's mother tongue, though the decision is not without opponents, who fear it may foster disunity. For more on this debate, see this entry.

    Map from Wikimedia Commons.
  • Liet International

    Liet International was invented and developed in 2002 "to give modern European bands who sing in a minority language a stage." Performers sing in such languages as Occitan, Frisian, and Breton. Link: Liet International.

    Image from the Liet International Facebook page.
  • IC Magazine

    IC (Intercontinental Cry) Magazine endeavors to present news about the issues and struggles of indigenous peoples worldwide, which have traditionally been poorly covered in mainstream media. Founded in 2004 by John Ahniwanika Schertow, it initially served as an aggregator of news on indigenous issues, but from 2007, it has been providing original content, supported by volunteer writers and contributors.