Remember when we were discussing how to pronounce John Tvedtnes's last
name (TWET-ness is the right way, incidentally), and we were talking
about how hard it is to pronounce some languages? Well, here's a real
tongue-twister, one of the so-called click languages that anyone who saw
The Gods Must Be Crazy will be familiar with:

South African languages

Oct 17th 2002 | JOHANNESBURG
>From The Economist print edition

The imminent death of a rich African language

LANGUAGES abound in South Africa: it has 11 official ones, and dozens of
unofficial. But the death on October 7th of Elsie Vaalbooi, aged about
100, saddened linguists. She was one of the last speakers of n|u, a
click-based dialect of the once-nomadic San people. Only a handful of
her ageing relatives can still use n|u, the last known example of !Ui, a
family of San languages spoken across southern Africa by
hunter-gatherers, possibly for the past 30,000 years. It is now, it
seems, about to expire.

According to UNESCO, the UN's cultural body, half the world's 6,000 or
so languages could die within a generation. Indigenous, nomadic groups,
such as Australia's aborigines (with 400 languages) and southern
Africa's San, have rich deposits of old languages. But they are
vulnerable as traditional lifestyles die. Of an estimated 1,400 African
tongues, 500 are in decline, half of them facing imminent extinction.

Mrs Vaalbooi had become a campaigner for the San tongues. “I want our
language to come back. I want our water, our animals, our plants,” she
said as South Africa's government returned 40,000 hectares (100,000
acres) to her Khomani community in 1999. Her activism was matched by
historians who say that the study of long-isolated languages will reveal
the origins of human speech.

Remarkably, !Ui and a cousin language in Botswana, !Xoo, have proved
more complex than almost any other. Spoken languages usually employ just
20 sound units or phonemes. English-speakers have 55 of them, but
!Ui-speakers use more than 140, says Nigel Crawhall of South Africa's
San Institute.

Study of such a complex language should reveal more about
hunter-gatherer cultures. But time is short. When Mrs Vaalbooi died last
week, there was almost nobody left to say “!hoi ca”, goodbye, in her
mother tongue.

Marc A. Schindler
Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada -- Gateway to the Boreal Parkland

“We do not think that there is an incompatibility between words and
deeds; the worst thing is to rush into action before the consequences
have been properly debated…To think of the future and wait was merely
another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just
an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; ability to understand a
question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action.”
– Pericles about his fellow-Athenians, as quoted by Thucydides in “The
Peloponessian Wars”

Note: This communication represents the informal personal views of the
author solely; its contents do not necessarily reflect those of the
author’s employer, nor those of any organization with which the author
may be associated.

///  ZION LIST CHARTER: Please read it at  ///
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