Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - — Jen­nifer Levin

Wait — there was a word for that Ac­cord­ing to lin­guists, 7,000 lan­guages are spo­ken world­wide, half of which could dis­ap­pear by the end of the cen­tury if steps aren’t taken to save them. With them will go some of what we know about cul­tures, our his­tory, the nat­u­ral world, and even some as­pects of the hu­man brain. Be­cause they are so iso­lated, some pop­u­la­tions have words in their vo­cab­u­lary for con­cepts ex­ist­ing only within that cul­ture — for ex­am­ple, the Tofa peo­ple of Siberia, rein­deer herders whose lo­cal lan­guage is highly spe­cific to this ac­tiv­ity. New Mex­ico is in one of two en­dan­gered-lan­guage hot spots in the United States; the South­west­ern area cov­ers New Mex­ico, Ok­la­homa, and Texas. (At even higher risk are lan­guages in the Pa­cific North­west.) In some cases, only a hand­ful of peo­ple still speak a given Na­tive lan­guage — Wi­chita, for in­stance, is a Cad­doan lan­guage with fewer than three speak­ers. Greg An­der­son and David Har­ri­son, lead­ing ex­perts on de­clin­ing lan­guages, were the sub­ject of a 2008 doc­u­men­tary ti­tled The Lin­guists. Har­ri­son is also the au­thor of The Last Speak­ers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most En­dan­gered Lan­guages, a book pub­lished by Na­tional Ge­o­graphic in 2010. An­der­son and Har­ri­son, who both work for the Na­tional Ge­o­graphic En­dur­ing Voices Project, also run the Liv­ing Tongues In­sti­tute for En­dan­gered Lan­guages, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to pre­serv­ing lan­guages via tech­nol­ogy. The Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter and the In­ter­na­tional Folk Art Al­liance present a mul­ti­me­dia over­view of the two schol­ars’ ef­forts, “Sav­ing En­dan­gered Lan­guages: Greg An­der­son and David Har­ri­son,” at the Len­sic (211 W. San Francisco St.) on Mon­day, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m. The evening fea­tures pho­tos and video clips of speak­ers of some of the world’s most en­dan­gered lan­guages and in­cludes a ques­tion-an­dan­swer ses­sion. Tick­ets are $10. Call 505-988-1234 or visit www.len­ In con­junc­tion, the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum (113 Lin­coln Ave., 505-476-5200) hosts a free screen­ing of The Lin­guists at 2 p.m. on Tues­day, Oct. 7.

Lin­guists David Har­ri­son, left, and Greg An­der­son, cen­ter, with Charlie Mun­gulda, who speaks Amurdag

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