What’s Lost When a Language Disappears

A third of the Indigenous languages used in America two decades ago have gone extinct, and Congress isn’t doing enough to preserve what remains.

The cultural practices and locales that define the hundreds of Native communities dotting the North American landscape are grounded in languages. Each is unique, with distinct dialects, accents, and slang. There are words, phrases, and concepts that do not exist in the American English lexicon, that confounding colonizer speech that Native Americans were forced to adopt and master. And nearly all of them are in danger of going extinct. In 1998, there were 175 Indigenous languages still in use within the United States. Today, there are 115. With each passing year, as elders are laid to rest and new babies are born, Native people lose their tongue.

Even though the English language was violently imposed, Native people have used it as a tool of struggle and beauty—as poet Tommy Pico said at a speaking engagement last month: “We didn’t ask for English, but it’s ours now, and look what we’re doing with it. You’re welcome.” While true, it still does not replace what is swiftly evaporating. As a Native person whose language was decimated and is only recently beginning to be stitched back together, I know the intangible feeling of hearing my own language through an elder’s voice on the phone or a cousin’s patient assistance in navigating a difficult pronunciation. It’s an experience of kinship that cannot fully be replicated in this second tongue. Learning a Native language is not only about knowledge or authenticity; it extends a symbol of a thriving and unique culture to the rising generation. It’s the cadence of survival. And if it goes silent, a great tradition is broken.

On Monday, in a small step to preserve this tradition, the House passed the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Programs Reauthorization Act, named after the legendary Tewa linguist. With the Senate vote already in the bank, the measure is headed to President Trump’s desk. Like a variety of other set-term appropriation bills, the legislation, which was first passed under George W. Bush in 2006, has to be renewed by Congress every five years to maintain the funding. And like so many other necessary pieces of legislation, it is still deficient.

The latest version of the bill, coming at the tail end of what the United Nations has dubbed the Year of Indigenous Language, will seek to lower the bill’s previous class-size restrictions, which were preventing tribes from obtaining federal grants to establish their own language programs because many smaller tribes had lower enrollment numbers than what the grant applications required. The need to lower that threshold speaks to the dire state of Indigenous languages in America.

The Department of the Interior approves applications for federal recognition based in part on whether a tribe has a distinct political system, land claim, and shared set of cultural practices, among other signifiers. That is to say, the federal government—the same body that sought to raze our speech, snuff out our religions, steal our land, and effectively end our various ways of life—is now in charge of determining who is Native enough to be considered a sovereign nation.

Writing for High Country News in November, Cherokee Nation podcast host and writer Rebecca Nagle, who also works as an apprentice in the Nation’s Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, laid bare the historical roots and modern reality of endangered Native languages. The American government, for part of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, attempted to eliminate any and all Native languages through federally funded boarding schools, where Native children were compelled to act as American citizens and nothing else. This included punishing students who dared speak their Native language, with some reports detailing kids having their mouths washed out with soap any time they uttered a word in the language they grew up hearing in their home.

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The boarding school era and its erasure of language is a blot on the nation’s record, and one that too few non-Natives have been forced to reckon with. But this cultural genocide did not begin with the Carlisle Indian School in 1879: Carlisle and the copycats it spawned were just the mass institutionalization of a practice that had been underway for centuries.

As the colonizers first washed over the continent and its people, the various European governments and the churches they brought with them understood what Captain Richard Pratt, the U.S. military leader and Carlisle founder, meant when he said that he sought to “kill the Indian … and save the man.” As long as Natives could communicate in a tongue that colonizers could not penetrate, their cultural and spiritual practices would continue, and as a result, so too would their claim to independent nationhood and the land they’d stewarded for centuries. So, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the early peddlersof organized religion, most of them Christian, set up shop on Native land along the East Coast and worked their way west.

From the early forts to Carlisle to the Termination Era, assimilation was all a means to an end—namely land and capital—and language was always among the first things the colonizer sought to rip out. It stood as the most important barrier between the Indigenous nations and the Europeans (and eventually the Americans), so they were determined to demolish it.

The general experience of losing one’s language to American preference is not unique to being Indigenous. It’s an American philosophy, one that is echoed in the experience of the children of immigrants whose parents do not teach them their language, in an attempt to shield them from racism. The president enforces a regime of assimilation when he declares, “This is a country where we speak English. It’s English. You have to speak English!” Racist law enforcementdoes the same when officers treat the sound of another language as pretext for a stop or search. It is present in mundane interactions in which one’s own language is treated by others as a signal of danger.

Against this climate of hostility, learning one’s Indigenous language serves a purpose that is bigger than what is transactional or academic. While it is dangerous to ascribe broadly painted features to the hundreds of tribes in America, reciprocity constitutes a great deal of the Native experience from nation to nation, and this extends to language. It is gifted to us with the hope and expectation that it will be passed down to the next generation, so that they too may withstand the tricks and brute force of colonization. The work that the Esther Martinez Act will accomplish is obviously crucial, but it is difficult to look beyond the transactional nature of the bill and the programs that it establishes.

The rescue of Indigenous language by way of the federal government may be too little, too late. I’m saying this not out of defeatism, but because it will in all likelihood be the efforts of tribal nations, and not the U.S., that saves Native languages. As Nagle pointed out, the Department of Health and Human Services, in addition to a handful of other federal agencies, approved just 29 percent of tribal applications in 2018, and its funding is minuscule in comparison to the nation’s previous erasure campaign. “For every dollar the U.S. government spent on eradicating Native languages in previous centuries, it spent less than 7 cents on revitalizing them in this one,” Nagle wrote.

Many of these languages are not even a full lifetime away from disappearing. They exist for as long as the heart of the elder who carries the words continues to beat. One day, that heart will stop, and so too will the language. Without the immediate funding of these programs, the expedient approval by Trump and then by HHS and other agencies, and the active increase in participation by Native youth, it stands to reason that the number of surviving languages will drop further by 2050. Seminole Nation citizen and Creek language teacher Jade Osceola best articulated the stakes when speaking about the eighth-grade language program she’s helped keep alive:

Language is what makes you different from all other Native Americans across the country. It’s not your food. It’s not your clothing. It’s not any of that, and you can’t do your ceremonies without language. That’s what makes us different. That’s what puts us on the map.

There is a narrow timeline to correct course, which tracks similarly existential struggles playing out in parallel. In order to prevent the worst possible outcome—the extinction of Native languages—the state’s response, to merely acknowledge its role in causing the problem and make funds more easily available, is a useful but inadequate solution on its own. That’s why it’s important to remember that the push to rescue these languages did not come solely from the American government; it is happening because nations and elders and youth are rising up and resisting the slow but steady turn toward assimilation. The process of learning a language can be arduous, but in crafting a way forward, Native people have always managed to make the process more often joyful and engaging—such as the efforts of Constance Owl, an Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation citizen, to translate the Cherokee Phoenix archives, or the Navajo Nation’s recent youth-aimed recording of “Baby Shark” in Diné.

Even on the best of days, fostering these Native languages will still be costly and require persistence. But it’s worth it, to reclaim and pass down one’s Native language. When your time comes, what will be the last words you utter? More to the point, how will you say them?

Source Link: https://newrepublic.com/article/155913/native-american-languages-disappearing-reauthorization-act-congress

Will AI Take Your Job—or Make It Better?

Governments need to plan now for the day automation makes many workplace skills obsolete.

Wally Kankowski owns a pool repair business in Florida and likes 12 creams in his McDonald’s coffee each morning. What he doesn’t like is the way the company is pushing him to place his order via a touchscreen kiosk instead of talking with counter staff, some of whom he has known for years. “The thing is knocking someone out of a job,” he says.

Wally is one of several humans who discuss the present and future of workplace automation in the seventh installment of the Sleepwalkers podcast, which offers an atlas of the artificial intelligence revolution. The episode explores how work and society will change as AI begins to take over more tasks that people currently do, whether in apple orchards or psychiatry offices.

Some of the portents are scary. Kai-Fu Lee, an AI investor and formerly Google’s top executive in China, warns that AI advances will be much more disruptive to workers than other recent technologies. He predicts that 40 percent of the world’s jobs will be lost to automation in the next 15 years.

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The latest on artificial intelligence, from machine learning to computer vision and more

“AI will make phenomenal companies and tycoons faster, and it will also displace jobs faster, than computers and the internet,” Lee says. He advises governments to start thinking now about how to support the large numbers of people who will be unable to work because automation has made their skills obsolete. “It’s going to be a serious matter for social stability,” he adds.

The episode also looks at how automation could be designed to assist humans, not replace them—and to narrow divisions in society, not widen them.

Toyota is working on autonomous driving technology designed to make driving safer and more fun, not replace the need for a driver altogether.

George Kantor from Carnegie Mellon University describes his hope that plant-breeding robots will help develop better crop varieties, easing the impacts of climate change and heading off humanitarian crises. “Better seeds means better crops, and that could ultimately lead to a more well-nourished world,” he says.

Kantor and Lee both argue that thinking about the positive outcomes of automation is necessary to fending off the bad ones. “Whether we point at a future that is utopia or dystopia, if everybody believes in it, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Lee says. “I’d like to be part of that force which points toward a utopian direction, even though I fully recognize the possibility and risks of the negative ending.”

More Great WIRED Stories

Source Link: https://www.wired.com/story/will-ai-take-your-job-or-make-it-better/

A preview of the Beethoven 2020 anniversary events

Concerts, exhibitions, city tours and performances: For an entire year, Germany will celebrate one of its most famous citizens, Ludwig van Beethoven, on the 250th anniversary of his birth.


Around 1,000 concerts, opera performances, festivals and exhibitions are expected throughout Germany to underline the 250th anniversary of the birth of composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), arguably Germany’s most famous citizen, as said Commissioner for Culture and the Media Monika Grütters on Friday at a press presentation for the upcoming anniversary year, also known as BTHVN2020 .

The city of Bonn, where the composer was born and lived until he moved to Vienna at the age of 22, will play a central role in the anniversary year’s program, added North Rhine-Westphalia’s Minister President Armin Laschet.


Sir Simon Rattle will be among the conductors who will celebrate Beethoven’s big birthday year

Highlights include a concert by the London Symphony Orchestra with Simon Rattle and violinist Lisa Batiashvili as well as the premiere of the commissioned work “The Nine” by Chinese composer Tan Dun.

The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is planning a 24-hour Beethoven marathon on April 25.

The German-French cultural channel Arte will be broadcasting live the performance of all nine Beethoven symphonies from different cities.

Daniel Barenboim will be closing the event on December 17, 2020 with a performance of the Ninth Symphony with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in Bonn.

The German federal government is funding the anniversary to the tune of €27 million ($33 million), the City of Bonn is contributing €5 million and the Rhein-Sieg-Kreis rural district is adding another €1.5 million.


Charistimatic, but tempermental

A serious look, slightly grim face and a lion’s mane: images of Ludwig van Beethoven have imprinted themselves into the collective imagination arguably moreso than any other composer. Yet, it’s mainly the late portraits that have shaped today’s notions of the revolutionary, combative and difficult artist.FROM REVOLUTIONARY TO POP IDOL

A shooting star in Vienna

Forceful, yet with a hint of smile, a young Beethoven looks out at the viewer in this painting from 1803. By that time, he had already attracted some of the most influential music patrons of the Viennese aristocracy.FROM REVOLUTIONARY TO POP IDOL

Visiting the prince

Prince Carl von Lichnowsky was one of Beethoven’s first supporters, with whom he later had a falling-out. In this picture by Julius Schmid from 1900, “Beethoven plays at Lichnowsky,” the dispute between the prince and the composer seems to be already underway.



Proud and confident
Beethoven not only met Goethe in Teplitz, Bohemia, in 1812, but a legendary and scandalous snub also took place: While the poet bowed reverently before the prince, composer Beethoven walked right by him with his head held high. That, at least, is the way Carl Rohling imagined the revolutionary scene.FROM REVOLUTIONARY TO POP IDOL

Revolutionary composer

Beethoven was not only enthused by the ideas of the French Revolution, but also by new methods of composition. Here, in this image by Willibrord Joseph Mähler from 1804, he seems to be giving expression to them with a wide, sweeping gesture.FROM REVOLUTIONARY TO POP IDOL

The original

There’s no doubt that Beethoven was one of the most popular artists of his time – which the countless portraits of him demonstrate. One of the best known is this image created by Joseph Karl Stieler in 1820.FROM REVOLUTIONARY TO POP IDOL

Going pop

Compared to other artists, Stieler portrayed Beethoven less realistically, but instead, in a more idealized fashion. Later, the painting was used as a template for engravings in which the contours became even more pronounced. It is surely no coincidence that Andy Warhol chose this image for his own renditions.FROM REVOLUTIONARY TO POP IDOL

Sprayed on

Bonn – Beethoven’s birthplace – is also home to several variations of Stieler’s image: as a stone sculpture in front of the Beethoven Hall, sometimes – especially during the Beethovenfest in September – as a painting on the pavement, or as graffiti on a wall – such as here near the Beethoven House, where the composer was born.FROM REVOLUTIONARY TO POP IDOL

Wrestling with each note

The fact that Beethoven did not make it easy on himself while composing was something the music world learned only after his death in 1827. Descriptions by his contemporaries who saw him at work surely influenced the romantic image of the maestro, who worked relentlessly and uncompromisingly in search of musical perfection.FROM REVOLUTIONARY TO POP IDOL

Genius and mania

Contemporaries marveled at Beethoven’s works of genius. Subsequent generations of composers, however, were intimidated by them – and afraid they could not live up to Beethoven’s standard. This image by Hermann Torggler from 1902 shows the composer in almost demonic fashion – created based on the composer’s death mask.FROM REVOLUTIONARY TO POP IDOL

The pop idol

Hardly a composer today is as famous the world over as Ludwig van Beethoven – thanks in no small part to his piano piece “Für Elise.” His life has been rendered in film several times, and has even been turned into cartoons and comics.

Author: Klaus Gehrke / als

Five pillars

The letters in the anniversary year’s logo “BTHVN2020” stand for the German words for five key aspects, or “pillars,” of the composer’s character: Beethoven as a citizen, as a composer, a humanist, a visionary and a nature lover.

The planned events will correspond to these five pillars. Some examples:

“B” for Bürger (citizen): These events include the “Beethoven Bürgerfest” (people’s party), a Beethoven procession tracing his life in Bonn and the surrounding area, the illumination of the city in sound and light, as well as the new presentation and extension of Bonn’s Beethoven House — the house where the composer was born.

“T” for Tonkünstler (composer): during the anniversary year, the complete works of the extremely productive composer will be presented. The Beethovenfest, which normally takes place in September, will have an extra season early in the year. New music will be commissioned and jazz, rock, pop and club music will be given a Beethoven twist.

“H” for Humanist: A citizens’ initiative in the anniversary will seek to organize 2,500 concerts in private households throughout Germany. An exhibition on the subject of Music and Politics is planned, and the significance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in various cultures in the world will be illuminated. The art of dance is represented in “Beethoven MOVES,” a choreography project.

“V” for Visionary: In a project named FUTURA, a “concert barge” is to travel the waterways from Bonn to Vienna and perform experimental music. In the “New Music Base Camp,” young people will learn the basics of music composition. A festival with 21st century music as well as virtual sound environments and musical experiments in internal spaces are to round out the theme.

“N” for Nature: In the, Beethoven Pastoral Project, concerts and performances will take place in a world-spanning network on World Environment Day 2020. Excursions to the countryside and picnics are also planned.


  • Young Beethoven’s stomping grounds
    Bonn around 1790
    The city had a vibrant music life from the early 18th century onwards. Its court orchestra and chorus were the object of these words of praise by the music journalist Carl Ludwig Junker: “It’s rare to find a musical ensemble with such a harmonious confluence of sound. The tone quality in particular has a high degree of truth and perfection that one only very rarely encounters.”

Source Link: https://www.dw.com/en/a-preview-of-the-beethoven-2020-anniversary-events/a-51473663


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Greta Thunberg Is The ‘Time’ Person Of The Year For 2019

Greta Thunberg, the activist who has quickly become a leading voice on climate change, is Time’s Person of the Year for 2019. At 16, she is the youngest person to earn the title in the magazine’s 92-year history.

Thunberg burst onto the world stage in the past year, organizing school strikes and protest marches to call attention to a climate crisis that she says older generations are not taking seriously enough.

She has famously called out world leaders for debating scientific facts and failing to stop a global warming trend that will affect the world’s children more than it affects anyone who’s currently in power.

Reacting to the honor, Thunberg said she is “a bit surprised” to be chosen, according to The Associated Press, which adds that Thunberg dedicated her recognition to other young activists.

Thunberg is currently in Madrid, where she delivered a speech at a U.N. climate conference Wednesday morning.

“Well, I am telling you there is hope. I have seen it,” she told the audience. “But it does not come from the governments or corporations. It comes from the people.”

Source Link: https://www.npr.org/2019/12/11/787026271/greta-thunberg-is-time-magazine-s-person-of-the-year-for-2019



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