Do Endangered Languages Do Better In The Alps?

According to UNESCO, one endangered language dies every two weeks worldwide. Most of these languages (perhaps all) are spoken by a people on the United Nations list of indigenous peoples.

Humankind has awakened to the need to save the planet, endangered animals and endangered plants. But we are doing much less to protect our own diversity, which is nowhere better expressed than through our vast multitude of languages (over 7,100).

What exactly has been killing off our languages so fast over the past century? Conversely, what might help them to survive, and even be revived, as was achieved with a handful of languages over the same time (e.g. Hebrew, Maori, Hawaiian, Cornish, Manx, etc.)?

Still in its infancy, the new science of revivalistics tries to provide answers to such questions. 

A cursory search to pinpoint the world's +-2,500 endangered languages reveals that they are often spoken in off-the-beaten-track and remote areas, and that in such places linguistic diversity is also greatest. So geography clearly plays a role in language survival. 

This observation is confirmed by more extensive research on the link between geography and language development. Yet no in-depth research has ever been done to examine how contrasting geographies impact the language of a large group of emigrants, part of which settles in mountainous areas, and part on flatter lands. This research project seeks to fill that void. 

To do so, we look to identify the effects (if any) the Alps have had on the vigour of endangered languages of Aramean refugees who settled in the Alps over the past century, as opposed to Arameans who settled in Europe’s flatter areas. 

Aramaic languages have long been endangered in their lands of origin in the Middle East, where they have dwindled from about 100 more or less vigorous languages a century ago to barely a dozen survivors today, all holding on for dear life.

Since Aramean refugees first settled in the Alps, have the Alps helped to stop the decline of their languages, accelerated it, or had no effect at all? 

To answer this question, we compare Alpine Arameans not only with Arameans who settled elsewhere in Europe (i.e. outside the Alps), but also with those who remained behind in the Middle East. Thus the first question we seek to answer is in which group of Arameans indigenous language use remains the most vigorous: the Levantines, the Alp Dwellers, or the Plainsmen? 

Once that question answered, we will determine what impact, if any, geography has had on language vigour. 

Lastly, and very importantly, we will determine whether the Alps in particular, and geography at large, hold lessons for endangered languages and language revivalists worldwide in their quest to save thousands of languages from dying out over the next century. 

Might geography even help bring back to life extinct languages? 

Januar 2021

André Lötter