Sunday, February 07, 2010

Another Language Goes Extinct

Biological extinctions are always incredibly depressing to me. No less depressing? Cultural extinctions:

The last speaker of an ancient tribal language has died in the Andaman Islands, breaking a 65,000-year link to one of the world's oldest cultures.

Boa Sr, who lived through the 2004 tsunami, the Japanese occupation and diseases brought by British settlers, was the last native of the island chain who was fluent in Bo.

Taking its name from a now-extinct tribe, Bo is one of the 10 Great Andamanese languages, which are thought to date back to pre-Neolithic human settlement of south-east Asia.

This is devastating for a number of fields, ranging from history and anthropology to linguistics and others. Culturally, the world has lost more than a language; it has lost all of the cultural insights, stories, worldviews, and knowledge that that language had passed on from generation to generation for over 65,000 years. As with the extinction of animals, it's hard to say what you can do about it when the numbers whittle down so far, but that doesn't render the loss any less depressing or devastating. Hopefully, Sr is resting with her ancestors and speaking her language with them once again.