One real-life linguistics professor diagrams the connections between Julia Cho’s play The Language Archive and the real-life tragedy of disappearing tongues.
by Chris Collins
Like George, the main character in Julia Cho's play The Language Archive, I am a linguist who has done work documenting highly endangered languages. Currently, I am involved in a project to document N|uu, a Khoisan language spoken by fewer than 10 elderly people in and around the town of Upington, South Africa. It is the last remaining Khoisan language of South Africa, all the others having been wiped out with the arrival of colonists from Europe. With a few exceptions, the Khoisan languages of southern Africa (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, the southern part of Angola) are either extinct or on the verge of extinction.
In Cho’s play, George explains the catastrophe: “When we say a language dies, we are talking about a whole world, a whole way of life. It is the death of imagination, memory.” I agree with this statement, which echoes a sentiment expressed by the late Prof. Ken Hale, my thesis supervisor: “The death of a language is a disaster. It’s as if someone had dropped a bomb on the Louvre.”
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2010-2011 Season, The Language Archive