UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Five languages that have returned from the brink

By Pieta Woolley

In the July/August issue of The Observer, Tali Folkin documents “The End of Aramaic” - its languishing due in part to ISIS’ activities in Syria and Iraq. 

Aramaic is just one of nearly 2,000 at-risk languages the United Nations (UN) documents on its Atlas of Endangered Languages. The good news is, revitalization is possible.

Here are five languages that have made their way back from the brink.

1. Hebrew

Leaders transformed the language of Jewish hymns and prayers into a daily spoken language in the late 1800s. Thanks to intentional nation-building at the same time, it was taught as a political act in Jerusalem and the area now known as Israel. 

2. Cornish

Classified by the UN as “extinct” in the 20th century, that classification has been revoked for this south-western British language. Written Cornish was formalized in 2008, and the first Cornish immersion program for preschoolers opened five years ago.

3. Haida

Like many North American indigenous languages, Haida was spoken by just a handful of elders by the late 20th century, due to the impacts of disease that decimated the population and residential schools that enforced English. Now, schools in Haida Gwaii (off the north coast of British Columbia) teach the language, and it has its own app, Facebook page and manga books.

4. Sanskrit

The liturgical language of Hinduism, also used by Buddhists and Jains, lost speakers by the 1800s. By the 1890s, though, revival societies had cropped up both in India and America. Today, it’s taught in schools and recognized in India’s constitution. What's more, All India Radio (like CBC of BBC) broadcasts across the country twice daily in Sanskrit.

5. Ainu

Japan’s indigenous culture, the Ainu, lives mostly in the country's north now. In the mid-1800s, Japan banned the minority language and cultural practices; in 1997, it offered an official reversal when the Law for the Promotion of Ainu Culture was introduced.  

Author's photo
Pieta Woolley is a writer in Powell River, B.C.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!


(Photo: cuatrok77/Flickr via Creative Commons)

Cormorants aren't the devil

by Douglas Hunter

Ontario's proposed new measures amount to a slaughter of an entire native bird species for no scientifically compelling reason, says this writer

Promotional Image


The United Church Observer's editor and publisher, Jocelyn Bell. (Photo: Lindsay Palmer)

The new name of 'The Observer' revealed!

by Jocelyn Bell

"United Church" will no longer be on the cover, but our commitment to sharing denominational news and perspectives remains the same

Promotional Image


Meet beloved church cats Mable and Mouse

by Observer Staff

They're a fixture of Kirk United Church Centre in Edmonton.

Promotional Image


February 2019

Marriage problems: Is the ancient tradition worth saving?

by Pieta Woolley

Bitterness and boredom seem to define many mid-life marriages, but we might not have to settle for apathy ever after


February 2019

A Yukon artist and a Tlingit trapper create this stunning jewelry

by Amy van den Berg

The fur jewelry in Whitehorse boutique store V. Ægirsdóttir is creating a new possibility for future partnerships with the region's trappers


February 2019

Why white people need to stop asking, 'where are you from?'

by Mike Sholars

"...For all intents and purposes, Canada is the only home I really recognize or remember. But none of that matters if I look like I don’t belong, and that single question makes that abundantly clear every single time."

Promotional Image