Western History & Genealogy Blog

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Learn an Endangered (or Extinct) Language in Western History and Genealogy

Tomkins, William. Universal Indian Sign Language of the Plains Indians of North America. San Diego: William Tomkins, 1929.
Armenian leaf from a collection of Near Eastern languages.
Frantz, Donald G. Blackfoot Grammar. Toronto: University of Toronto Press: 1991.
Goss, James A. A Short Dictionary of the Southern Ute Language. Ignacio: Southern Ute Tribe, 1961.

I feel an affinity for languages. To know more than one language is to be able to see the world in more than one way. After all, how do we relate to the world if not by the words we use to describe it? And if one language describes the world in a different way than another, then the world becomes a new place. But what happens when a language becomes endangered because its adherents are fast disappearing? Every year many indigenous languages go extinct and ways of thinking are lost to the world. Part of my own family is the inheritor of an endangered language, Western Armenian, whose speakers were largely exterminated by Turkish authorities during the Armenian Genocide (the 98th commemoration is on April 24). Although a strong Armenian Diaspora exists in the United States and a few other countries, Western Armenian adherents are dwindling. But language resources for Armenian and other endangered languages do exist. I’ve been lucky enough to study Western Armenian because of such materials. Many American Indian languages are also endangered. In Western History and Genealogy, we have a wealth of language materials for many, many Western American Indian languages, including dictionaries and books of grammar for Crow, Ute, and Blackfoot. We also have materilals with Mayan hieroglyphics, Latin, Syriac, Armenian, Arabic, Persian, Javanese and… you get the idea. Whether you want to learn a language, just pick up a few words here and there, or even just see what a certain language looks like, our department is the place to find all sorts of interesting language materials. Check our catalog to see what we have.


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