Tribalingual.

Cambridge News reports on a worthy initiative:

A Cambridge start-up is on a mission to save some of the world’s most endangered languages from extinction.

Tribalingual is a language learning platform backed by the Cambridge Social Ventures programme in the Centre for Social Innovation at the Cambridge Judge Business School. It focuses solely on teaching rare and endangered languages.

It has been founded by Inky Gibbens, who became interested in endangered languages when she discovered that Buryat, the northern-Siberian language of her grandparents, was in danger of dying out.

“The rationale for using a language school to save languages is obvious,” said Gibbens.

“The only real way to save languages is by getting more people to speak them.”

So where others attempt to preserve languages by mummifying them through documentation and archiving, Tribalingual wants to give them a new lease of life by cultivating new generations and communities of speakers.

The company will initially focus on three dialects: Ojibwe, an endangered musical language in North America; Tulu, a South Indian language that is passed down orally only and doesn’t have a writing system; and Ainu, the language of a marginalised indigenous tribe in Japan, with less than 10 speakers worldwide.

Their website is here, and they’ve got a blog. Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. So Ojibwe is “an endangered musical [?!] language,” and simultaneously also a dialect. And Ainu is a dialect too. That’s news to me.

  2. Inky is pretty name.

    I assume it’s the result of Americanization of Enkhee – Mongolian/Buryat name (Mongolian Энхээ, Buryat Энкэ) which is derived from word meaning “peace, tranquility, happiness”.

    Very ingenious.

  3. I think Inky is on the left on this photo

    http://www.mountroadbaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/GIBBENS-FAMILY.png

    The site says her father John Gibbens and her mother Altaa translated together the Bible into Mongolian from Hebrew and Greek.

  4. January First-of-May says:

    So Ojibwe is “an endangered musical [?!] language,” and simultaneously also a dialect. And Ainu is a dialect too. That’s news to me.

    In addition to the above, it is also news to me that Buryat is “northern-Siberian”, as opposed to, you know, right next to the Mongolian border.

  5. I don’t get it. Tulu is not endangered (and has a written literature), so they can get their army of teachers, but who would they teach it to, and why? On the other hand, where would Ainu learners get their ‘army of teachers’? How is that project unique among all the other language revitalization projects and programs of the past 20 years or so?

    Edit: I looked at the program’s website. For Ainu they have a second-language speaker of Sakhalin Ainu, a non-Ainu enthusiast. It seems well-meaning, but the audience of this course (an unremarkable 10 week video course) seems to be other enthusiasts. The blurb is certainly not aimed at Ainu people themselves.

  6. David Marjanović says:

    In addition to the above, it is also news to me that Buryat is “northern-Siberian”, as opposed to, you know, right next to the Mongolian border.

    Whoever wrote that must have thought that “southern Siberia” was a contradiction in terms!

  7. I think geographically correct term for the region where Buryats live is Eastern Siberia.

  8. I note that in learning the Sakhalin variety of Ainu “you will also gain knowledge about the most widely understood Hokkaidō variety originally spoken in Japan”. So if it is the most widely understood variety, and it was originally spoken in Japan, where is the Hokkaidō variety spoken now?

    The political jokes in Mongolia: I’m not sure where Inky dug them up from, but I remember seeing them several years ago, like maybe three or four. Most of the material on the blog seems to be recycled or derivative.

  9. I looked at the program’s website. For Ainu they have a second-language speaker of Sakhalin Ainu, a non-Ainu enthusiast. It seems well-meaning, but the audience of this course (an unremarkable 10 week video course) seems to be other enthusiasts. The blurb is certainly not aimed at Ainu people themselves.

    You’re right, this does seem to be a well-meaning but misdirected initiative. Oh well, at least a few more people will now have heard of Buryat and Tulu, and I’ve learned the origin of the odd name “Inky,” so it’s all good.

  10. This is not really about revitalization, as far as I can see. Rather, the business model seems to be “let speakers of an exotic language profit from their knowledge of it by selling online lessons in it to more prosperous enthusiasts outside their community” (with the company, presumably, skimming a percentage for linking the two groups up.) That model might even be viable, depending on how many language lovers there are in the West, but probably not without a wider selection of languages.

  11. Good point.

  12. The only other Inky I know about is the nickname of the daughter of the writer Ayun Halliday (who is not Buryat).

  13. Maybe her parents played a lot of Pac-man 🙂
    Is her brother’s name Clyde?

  14. It’s short for “India”.

  15. -Is her brother’s name Clyde?

    As I discovered from her parents’ Christian blog, Inky’s brother is actually named Tiki (Anglicization of Mongolian name Tegshee which means ‘straight’)

  16. They’ve added Quechua and Mongolian now.

  17. Mongolian isn’t actually a threatened language since it’s the language of a sovereign state. The ones that are in trouble tend to be minority languages that are not protected or promoted by the state.

  18. It sounds like they’re currently at the stage of trying to make their platform work and get some people using it — whatever the language — while gesturing towards their desire to use this to support endangered language teaching.

    I like the idea of trying to use First World language-amateurs to finance speakers of rare languages to spend time teaching them. I hope they support local intracultural learning too.

    (Do people have experience learning a language in this way? Does it really work?)

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