Climate change: melting language

December 1, 2011 by totalityservices

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Climate change is a hot topic (no pun intended) of debate and interest for politicians, heads of state, environmentalists, and the general public. We are all aware, to some extent, that the ice caps are melting, there are holes in the ozone layer, our seas and rivers are rising and that we are all contributing, in some way, to our planet’s demise. Yes, these issues are of vital importance and we must all renounce our polluting ways and our laissez faire attitude towards our environment. There is much still be done, on every level, for us to protect our world for the generations in centuries to come. But, it’s not only our immediate surroundings and the habitable nature of our environment that we should be concerned about. In reading and researching endangered and extinct languages for the next Rosetta Gazette, I came across an article about climate change and language. The ice is melting, and with it the habitat of not only the flora and fauna, but also of the natives who share it with them.

The article, featured on the Guardian website, tells the story of an anthropological linguist who is spending time in Greenland living with the Inughuit people and documenting, in written form, what is principally a spoken dialect- ‘Inuktun’. With the melting of the ice and snow the Inughuit community, who live and feed off their environments hunting and gathering, will no longer have the resources to do so (in approximately 15 years there will be nothing left of their frozen land), and they will be forced to move elsewhere in order to live.

In moving away from their community lifestyle, which closely resembles that of their ancestors, the Inughuit people will become fragmented and, thus risk losing both their traditional culture and linguistic heritage. Not only with the ice have disappeared, so too will their language, which is considered to be one of the oldest Inuit dialects.

The academic, Stephen Pax Leonard, plans to stay for several months to record in writing what has been passed down in spoken form from generation to generation. In doing so, he hopes to be able to save the language and to be able to have concrete documentation, which can then be given back to the “communities themselves in a form that future generations can use and understand.”

So whilst most of us know the plight of the ice bergs, we should all be more aware of what the subsequent implications of climate change will be on the communities, cultures and languages around them. One thing for sure is that whilst one man’s actions may not be able to stop climate change in its tracks (thought it will certainly go towards helping); hopefully this man’s actions will be able to stop the disappearance of this linguistic gem.

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