Peter Austin recently asked for top 10 endangered language lists. Here’s mine, done just about completely off the top of my head, but with some justificatory comments.
- Navajo: important for linguistic theory, important in the Indigenous civil rights movement, the resources for Navajo are a model for others, and native-speaker-linguists from the Navajo Nation have been important role models (and kick-ass linguists)
- Mapuche Mapudungún: important for the recognition of Indigenous Intellectual Property Rights, since they took Microsoft to court over an unauthorised software translation.
- Jarawara [Andamans]: Their self-enforced isolation is an extreme form of anti-assimilation which should be respected (and conversely the ‘reserve’ that the Indian government has set aside is a reminder that the rhetoric of endangered languages and endangered species are never far apart, and each has strong and weak points).
- Ganalbiŋu: Because they didn’t compromise in translating the movie Ten Canoes but instead presented it with subtitles. (For this reason, the Bunuba people who worked on the Jandamarra film would also qualify, as would several other language groups, but I only get to pick 10)
- Miami: because of their successful revitalisation program and the determination of its participants. From what I’ve heard, what they did was basically find all the field notes and publications they could, and they studied them, puzzled it all out, and has a hard-core program where they spoke nothing else, no matter how it was, all the time, and especially to Miami kids.
- Ingush: because there are far more speakers of Ingush in exile than in Ingushetia; a reminder of the linguistic consequence of political turmoil.
- Bangani: These two languages (and their families) are important for historical linguistics. !Kung as a representative of one of the languages spoken in southern Africa before the Bantu expansion, and Bangani because of the intrigue surrounding possible centum reflexes in this group. Endangered languages, historical linguistics, academic skull-duggery and mystery…
- Pirahã: because of claims about universality. Of course, all languages bring up these questions but Pirahã has been probably the most high profile and the most hotly argued, and has brought up questions not only of linguistic universals but also cultural and cognitive constraints on language.
- Bardi: It’s my list and Bardi has been very important for me as a linguist, not only in what I work on but how I approach linguistics, fieldwork and theory.