The formula

I’ve finally got into (which has been playing up for me recently) and recovered the formula for producing an article on an endangered language. It’s time for a bit of an update though.

In case you too would like to write a feature article on an endangered language, here’s the formula. In the original formula I specified a sequence, but this is an unordered list of elements that should be included.

  1. Provide a scene of a last speaker (or small group), usually an elderly woman. Preferably make it a language spoken outside the US or Western Europe. Minority language stories for those countries often focus on revitalisation (cf Irish and Romansch) rather than essentialising the last speakers.
  2. cut to general information “linguists agree that half of the world’s languages spoken today will be gone in 50 years”. Then a quote from Michael Kraus.
  3. Provide a few sentences about imperial languages, usually either English or Spanish
  4. a comment about economics which makes the linguists look like bleeding hearts.
  5. Provide an example of a word that can’t be translated into a single English word. For bonus points, make it a longish word which has something to do with time. Zero points if the word is spelled correctly though.
  6. A comment about how the language makes a person think differently.
  7. Imply that younger relatives are more interested in McDonalds and Nike, or slackers who would rather watch TV than learn about their culture.
  8. Employ something of the “noble savage” trope and link it to communities.
  9. End with a phrase about about tongues falling silent.

3 responses to “The formula

  1. ITYM “Krauss” not “Krause”.

    (5) should clarify in that the writer earns more bonus points if they explain that the word cannot be printed due to orthographic complexity.

    This is a wonderful post. I’m going to quit linguistics and go to work as a journalist. I could make a decent living off of endangered language articles for the rest of my life.

  2. ha! hilarious. I just saw a documentary yesterday built on exactly this model. I had to spend 20 minutes explaining a non-linguist friend why the film was nonsense

  3. Pingback: Endangered Languages and Cultures » Blog Archive » Linguistics in the popular media: a LIP discussion

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