Lament for Language

Chief Marie Smith Jones, Udach’ Kuqax*a’a'ch: a sound that calls people from afar. Last native Eyak speaker, RIP – January 21, 2008. LISTEN

Artist statement:
An attempt to honour late Chief Marie Smith Jones, Udach’ Kuqax*a’a'ch, (May 14, 1918 – January 21, 2008) who was the last native Eyak speaker. The endangerment and extinction of Aboriginal languages is a stark reality and a threat to human diversity, with the death of a language is lost an entirely unique cosmology, and cultural knowledge. Aboriginal languages contain deep intrinsic knowledge of their lands and territories, what will happen when we forget/erase the languages of the lands we live on? If humanity can create such complex technologies and communications, why can’t we protect indigenous languages.

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One Response to Lament for Language

  1. In Wade Davis’s Massey Lecture, The Wayfinders, he presents a cogent reason for why we should came about these disappearing ways of knowing the world, regardless of whether or not we might ever encounter these other cultures: climate change.

    Western ways of knowing the world, through capitalism and democracy, are but one way of understanding the relationship between humans, animals, the land and the cosmos. The entire history of the world that came before us stand as testament to so many different, effective ways of conceptualizing this multitude of interconnections.

    Perhaps our complacency with allowing so many languages vanish is that we have lost the sight of the inherent value of divergent ways of knowing. It might even be related to ego. As Davis points out, “To acknowledge the wonder of other cultures is not to denigrate our way of life but rather to recognize with some humility that other peoples, flawed as they too may be, nevertheless contribute to our collective heritage, the human repertoire of ideas, beliefs, and adaptations that have historically allowed us as a species to thrive. To appreciate this truth is to sense viscerally the tragedy inherent in the loss of language or the assimilation of a people. To lose a culture is to lose something of ourselves.”

    These other ways of being in the world are exactly that: other ways of being in the world. Climate change is the direct result of the Western way of being in the world. We are lucky that there remain these other possible conceptions of relation, that there are alternatives at all.

    Culture is not trivial.