Endangered languages take to the airwaves – Alexis Hauk

August 16, 2012

Arts & Culture

One of the most frequent visitors to this blog who knows my great interest in disappearing/endangered languages sent this to me.  You can check out http://emotanafricana.com/2012/02/09/yoruba-and-other-disappearing-languages-a-revisit/

which is one of the old essays on the subject from my newspaper column contributions.

What is more, my last kid seems to have picked up the challenge of the threat to my native Yoruba having recently released an app using modern tools to enhance the learning of Yoruba language, [Speakyorubaapp.com] which can be accessed from the Apple online Store:

Radio Free Cherokee: Endangered Languages Take to the Airwaves

Alexis Hauk | Aug 15, 2012

How indigenous tongues facing extinction are finding new life on community radio stations



Loris Taylor, the CEO and president of Native Public Media, still has the scars on her hands from when she was caught speaking Hopi in school and got the sharp end of the ruler as a result. “They hit so hard, the flesh was taken off,” she remembers. “Deep down inside, it builds some resistance in you.”

Now, she’s at the forefront of a movement to revive dead and dying languages using an old medium: radio. As CEO and president of Native Public Media, she’s lobbied the FCC and overseen projects to get increasingly rare tongues like Hopi onto airwaves so that Native Americans can keep their ancestors’ ways of speaking alive—and pass those ways of speaking to new generations.

Similar efforts are taking place worldwide. In Ireland, Dublin’s youthful Top-40 Raidio Ri-Ra and Belfast’s eclectic indie Raidio Failte have been broadcasting entirely in Irish for several years. In Washington, D.C. earlier this month, indigenous radio producers from Peru, Mexico, Canada, El Salvador, and a handful of other countries gathered for the “Our Voices on the Air” conference, organized by the 40-year-old nonprofit Cultural Survival.

Following centuries of oppression that have marginalized minority languages, radio represents a modest but surprisingly promising way to reinvigorate the traditions keeping those languages alive. In the Maori community of New Zealand, for example, the combination of 21 radio stations and rigorous early childhood immersion programs have brought Maori-languages speakers from an all-time low of 24,000 in the 1980s to 131,000 in 2006, according to Mark Camp, deputy executive director at Cultural Survival.

“It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s an important piece,” Camp says of radio. “If you don’t have some sort of media—and radio is the best in our opinion—to counterbalance the predominant commercial media that is all in Spanish or in English, it makes language less of a modern, living thing. It becomes something that you might do with your grandparents.”

As Kaimana Barcarse, the producer and lead DJ for KWXX (FM)’s Hawaiian-language radio show Alana I Kai Hikina, puts it, radio provides a way to ensure “the normalization of our language in our homelands. … Broadcasting in our language allows us to share our paradigms, our worldviews, and the essence of our being.”


The swift and sure loss of indigenous language in the U.S. was hardly an accident. From the latter part of the 19th century to the latter part of the 20th, the Bureau of Indian Affairs systematically sent generations of Native American kids into boarding schools that were more focused on punishment and assimilation than on education. In a piece for NPR in 2008, Charla Bear reported on the terrible conditions that persisted at these schools for a century—how kids were given Anglo names, bathed in kerosene, and forced to shave their heads.

In recent years, the government has taken steps to reverse some of the damage. In 1990, the Native American Languages Act was passed, recognizing the right of indigenous populations to speak their own language. And Taylor’s lobbying helped lead to the creation in 2009 of the FCC’s “Tribal Priority” for broadcasting and then, a year later, to the establishment of the FCC Office of Native Affairs and Policy, which promotes technology and communication access on tribal lands.

Still, the effects of centuries of forced assimilation run deep. Richard Alun Davis, station manager for Arizona Hopi station KUYI 88.1 FM, says that the disappearing vocabulary creates a “complex tapestry of shame” in the approximately 9,000-person population his station reaches.

“Even if they can speak, they usually do not do it outside of the home for fear of being corrected,” he says. Because the Hopi religious tradition is firmly rooted in the language, “It’s not only a moment of discomfort with the literacy. It’s also showing that you’re unable to participate in all the culture.”

In 1998, Mesa Media Inc. conducted a survey of 200 Hopi people and found that while people ages 60 and up were 100 percent fluent in Hopi, that percentage diminished steadily as you got younger: 84 percent ages 40-59, 50 percent ages 20-39 and 5 percent in children age 2-19. The survey, which provides the most recent data of its kind on this community, concluded that unless children began to learn Hopi right away, the language would die out completely in a few generations.

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2 Comments on “Endangered languages take to the airwaves – Alexis Hauk”

  1. TO Says:

    How nice if our National Broadcasting Commission would take a cue from this and “do something before (the languages all) die” (apologies J J Rawlings.)
    Let one tell the other; perhaps someone who needs to hear would hear.



    • emotan77 Says:

      Thanks, TO.

      THAT would be a cheap but very effective way of stemming the tide of the major Nigerian languages disappearing.

      For the benefit of my non-Nigerian readers, Nigeria has four or five major languages, i.e. a Yoruba does not understand a word of what an Ibo says nor does the Ibo; ditto an Edo/Hausa, etcetera. There are also many dialects within a language group, i.e. an Ijebu/Ondo/Ekiti/Akoko can all speak Yoruba – with variations – but they all have different dialects.

      May be the Southwest or Southeast but the Yoruba-Southwest, especially, as it is the most ravaged and guilty part of Nigeria should start this. Radio is cheap as earlier mentioned and this does not need any so-called “regional integration” to get going, i.e. with the Action Congress Party-controlled states are at daggers drawn against the lone Labor Party Ondo State, each can be successful in using the medium to fight the scourge without “cooperating” with any other state.

      Now that you’ve suggested it, I will go ahead and start with a public letter after which one can make other effort.

      Your suggestion brings to mind the jaw-jawing I had done in many essays and through the Ede Yoruba Group led by Late Papa [Medical] Dr. Smith for almost a decade on Yoruba as a disappearing language until my kid came along and actually did something about it: the speakyoruba app now download-able from the apple store. Just like that!

      I thank you very much for this wonderful suggestion and will post it so that others can read it.

      Regards, as always.



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