A quest to preserve languages

CCTV News

A quest to preserve languages

It is a threat facing communities on nearly every continent. According to U.N., about half of the world’s languages may become extinct by the end of this century. Some estimate that a language disappears every four months.

In Chile, a young musician and activist is trying to save one of them.

CCTV America’s correspondent Harris Whitbeck has the story.

A quest to preserve languages

A quest to preserve languages

In Chile, a young musician and activist is trying to save a disappearing language. CCTV America’s correspondent Harris Whitbeck has the story.

Keyuk sings, in a language no one else can speak, of geese roaming the skies and lagoons.

His song rises from a rooftop in Santiago, the bustling Chilean capital where he grew up.

Keyuk is 25 years old. He claims Tierra del Fuego in his blood. Half-Selknam on his mother’s side, he wants to keep that ancient culture alive.

“We have to have a connection within ourselves,” Keyuk says. “We need to know ourselves and what’s inside of us beyond what our minds can create. There is something about how you relate to the world that surrounds you. And how you feel in the world and how you are a part of the world.”

Keyuk wants to preserve what little is left of a once-thriving group of people – a culture still studied by academics today as one of the only nomadic tribes in the Americas to have lived cut off from the entire continent.

The Selknam virtually disappeared towards the end of the 19th century when European traders colonized their lands. Most of them were killed in violent acts of genocide.

A small cultural center in the town of Rio Grande, Argentina serves as one of the last strongholds of the culture. Less than a dozen descendants of the Selknam still gather to draw strength from their culture. Language is one of the only things they have.

Keyuk is the only one who speaks it. He learned it from an old woman before she died.

“As human we are so stubborn in the fight against closed-mindedness. But I have hope I will see a reassessment of the importance of Indian cultures,” Keyuk says.


Basques manage to preserve the Basque culture

Not long ago, the native Basque language was at risk of disappearing completely from the Basque region.

CCTV America’s Frances Kuo has the story.

Basques manage to preserve the Basque culture

Basques manage to preserve the Basque culture

Not long ago, the native Basque language was at risk of disappearing completely from the Basque region. But Basques have managed to preserved their culture. CCTV America’s Frances Kuo has the story.

During his rule, Spanish leader Francisco Franco banned the Basque language of Euskara.

But history came to the rescue. Part of Spain’s Basque region became an autonomous community in 1979 and preserved its culture.

That’s the reason why Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian institution wanted to feature the Basque people in this year’s Folklife festival. The emphasis was on resilient communities.

One challenge is to continue to preserve the Basque language.

Lurdana Acasuso is an advocate for Euskara, a language unlike any other languages in the world.

“We encourage people to use the Basque language on the Internet, social media, because it’s the new environment, the new communication environment for everyone so if a language wants to be alive, it has to be in the Internet and social media, there’s no future of this language without this world,” Acasuso says.

It is not just the language that makes the Basque culture unique – it’s the other aspects that prove its strength.

There’s Basque art and the unique design of the Lauburu representing the unity of the Basque people. There’s also the unique Basque cuisine Pintxos, the Basque version of tapas.

From their experiences, Basques understand the importance of respecting both change and tradition – and not letting history dictate its future.


Naomi Baron discusses language preservation

To talk more about the importance of preserving language, CCTV America’s Mike Walter spoke with Naomi Baron, professor of linguistics at American University in Washington.