Irish Gaelic, Rapa Nui And More Endangered Languages From Around The World

Mariano Kamp, Flickr

There are nearly 7,000 languages spoken throughout the world today, the majority of which are predicted to become extinct by the end of this century. Half the world’s population speaks the top 20 world languages – with Mandarin, Spanish and English leading the charge, in that order – and most linguists point to globalization as the main cause for the rapid pace languages are falling off the map.

The problem is, when a language dies so does much of the knowledge and traditions that were passed won using it. So when Mental Floss used data from the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity to post a list of several at-risk languages, we here at Gadling were saddened by the disappearing native tongues and decided to use data from the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity to highlight some in our own list.

Irish Gaelic: Despite the fact that the government requires Irish students to learn this language and it currently has an estimated 40,000 native speakers, it is still classified as vulnerable.

Rapa Nui: The mother tongue of Chile’s famous Easter Island has fewer than 4,000 native speakers, and is quickly being taken over by Spanish.

Seneca: Only approximately 100 people in three Native American reservation communities in the United States speak this language, with the youngest speaker in his 50s.Yaw: Most young people living in the Gangaw District of Burma understand but do not speak this critically endangered language that has less than 10,000 native speakers.

Kariyarra: Although there are many people who have a passive understanding of this aboriginal language, only two fluent Kariyarra speakers are left in Western Australia.

Francoprovençal: There are only about 130,000 native speakers of this language, mostly in secluded towns in east-central France, western Switzerland and the Italian Aosta Valley.

Yagan: This indigenous language of Chile purportedly has only one remaining native speaker. Others are familiar with the language, but it will likely disappear soon.

Patuá: Derived from Malay, Sinhalese, Cantonese and Portuguese, less than 50 people in Macau, China and their diaspora speak this language. It is now the object of folkloric interest amongst those who still speak it.

Useful foreign phrases, Part 2: how to say, “Can you write this down for me?” in 10 languages

useful foreign phrasesA post written by Chris on Tuesday reminded me of this little language series I started in March. In “Ten things Ugly Americans need to know before visiting a foreign land,” Chris recommended brushing up on the local language. He joked about dashing around Venice clutching his concierge’s handwritten note, “Do you have 220/110 plug converters for this stupid American who left his at home?”

Thanks, Chris, because I’ve had this post sitting in my queue for awhile, as I debated whether or not my phrase of choice would appear useful to readers. It’s saved my butt many a time, when a generous concierge or empathetic English-speaker would jot down crucial directions to provide to a cab driver. It’s also helped me out when I’ve embarked on long-distance journeys that require me to get off at an unscheduled stop.

I have a recurring nightmare in which I board the wrong bus or train in a developing nation, and end up in some godforsaken, f—ed up place in the wee hours. Actually, that’s happened to me more than once, except I was actually in my intended destination. So the other piece of advice I’d like to impart is: do some research ahead of time on accommodations and how to reach them as safely as possible if you’re arriving anywhere in the wee hours–especially if you’re alone, regardless of your gender.

I digress. Before your next trip to a foreign land, take the time to scribble the words, “Can you (please) write this down for me?” in your guidebook or dog-ear it in your phrasebook (you’re bringing one, right? Right?). It will serve you well, I promise you. Below, how to make this useful request in ten languages.

P.S. It bears repeating that I’m far from a polylinguist; I’m relying on phrases based on past experience or research. If I inadvertently offend anyone’s native tongue, please provide a correction in the “Comments” section.

1. Spanish (Catalan): ?Puedes escribirlo, por favor?

2. Italian: Può ripeterlo, per favore?

useful foreign phrases3. French: Pourriez-vous, l’écrire, s’il vous plait?

4. German: Könnten Sie das bitte aufschreiben?

5. Czech: Můžete prosím napsat to pro mě?

6. Portuguese: Escreva, se faz favor.

As I noted in my Part 1, many languages, including those spoken throughout Asia and the Middle East, use written characters. For that reason, transliteration will vary, which is why the spelling or phonetics may differ. These languages are also tonal in nature, which makes them notoriously intimidating to Westerner travelers. Just smile, do your best, and have your pen and paper handy.

7. Chinese (Cantonese): Ng goi nei bong ngo se dai.

8. Japanese: Anata ga shite kudasai watashi no tame ni sore o kakikomu koto ga dekimasu ka?

9. Vietnamese: Có thể bạn hãy viết ra cho tôi?

10. Moroccan Arabic: Ktebha līya.

What useful phrases have helped you on your travels? Please tell us!

[Photo credits: pencil, Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography; tourist, Flickr user Esteban Manchado]

Useful foreign phrases, Part 1: how to say, “I’m just looking” in 10 languages

useful foreign phrasesI’ve frequently pimped Lonely Planet’s Phrasebooks on this site, but I swear I don’t get kickbacks from the company. It’s just that I’m a big believer in not being a). A Tourist (although, let’s face it, if I’m not at home, I am indeed A Tourist) and b). helpless.

Even if you’re the biggest xenophobe on earth–which would make foreign travel a really weird and pointless pastime you might want to reconsider– it’s hard to dispute the importance of knowing how ask “Where’s the bathroom?” in certain urgent circumstances.

It’s with such experiences in mind that I came up with this fun little series. There are a handful of phrases I’ve cultivated in various languages that have served me well, in situations both good and bad. Not only are they inscribed on the dog-eared inner covers of my trusty Phrasebooks; they’re etched into my mind, so I can summon them at will. Whether you need to ward off annoying vendors, personal humiliation, potential suitors, or would-be attackers, it pays to be prepared and know what to say, when. Since things like “Yes, No, Thank you, Please, Hello,” etc. are generally not too challenging, for the purposes of this series, I’ll leave them out. That doesn’t mean they’re not very important to learn, however.

This week’s lesson: “I’m just looking.” Invaluable for politely but firmly stating your desire to see with your eyes, not your wallet. It may not stop persistent hawkers from trying to close a deal, but at least you’re showing respect by speaking in their native tongue (or an approximation thereof). And who knows? If you change your mind, that alone may help you score a better bargain.

P.S. I don’t claim to be polylingual: I’m compiling phrases based on past experience or research. If I offend anyone’s native tongue, please provide a correction in the “Comments” section. Be nice!

1. Spanish: Solo estoy mirando.

2. Italian: Sto solo guardando.

3. French: Je regarde.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Gerry Balding]useful foreign phrases4. German: Nur schauen.

5. Czech: Jen se dívám.

6. Portuguese: Estou só a olhar.

Many languages, especially those spoken in Asia and the Middle East, use written characters. Transliteration will vary, depending upon the guidebook/translator, which is why the spelling or phonetics below may be different from other sources. Since these languages are largely tonal (and may require accents or characters not available on a Western computer), look at this way: odds are you’re going to mangle the pronunciation anyway, so just do your best! It’s the thought that counts.

7. Chinese (Cantonese): Tái haa.

8. Japanese: Watashi ga mite iru dakedesu (here’s to Japan getting back on its feet and attracting travelers soon!) To make a Red Cross donation, click here.

9. Vietnamese: Tôi chỉ xem thôi.

14. Moroccan Arabic: Ghir kanshuf.

What’s the most useful phrase you’ve ever learned in a foreign language? How has it helped your travels? We want to hear from you!

[Photo credit: Flickr user wanderer_by_trade]


Dim Sum Dialogues : An Introduction

This post is the first installment in a twice-weekly feature column covering the culture, sights, sounds and current events of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.

I think the best way that I can introduce myself is to explain how I ended up in Hong Kong.

A year ago I graduated from UCLA’s film school after studying interactive design & media for two years and documentary film for two years. With no firm job offers and an eager desire to travel, I accepted an invitation to chronicle the construction of an orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania. Our original assignment got sidetracked when we stumbled upon a different orphanage that had essentially been abandoned by its staff and financiers. We sought to find out how this could happen, and what it could tell us about the larger picture of international aid in countries like Tanzania.

My partner on the project is a classmate from UCLA, and a native of Hong Kong. He invited me to return to Hong Kong to edit the material together. After six months of eating beans & rice, a bout of malaria, and once-a-week hot showers, the glittering skyline of Hong Kong sounded pretty appealing. Okay, very appealing.

It’s been nearly four months since I arrived on the Asian continent, and I’ve long forgotten chips mayai for tasty dai pai dong and the unpredictable dalla dallas for the ultra-efficient MTR. I’ve been lost in shopping malls that surpass the luxury and scale of any that I’ve found in America, and been engaged by the blend of modernity and ancient Chinese culture.The title of this series, Dim Sum Dialogues, stems from a famous type of Chinese cuisine. Dim sum literally means “a bit of heart” or “touch heart”, because it was originally only served as a light snack – not a main meal. It’s a practice traditionally served from early morning until noon, intended to be an occasion shared with family members or close friends with long conversations over many cups of tea. I like the idea of Dim Sum as a practice, and I want this series to be simply something that serves as a snack until you are curious enough to find out more about Asia by yourself. I want it to be something that engages you to debate, ask questions and participate with me, as if a friendly conversation over a long serving of steamed buns and rice noodle rolls. And occasionally, I hope the naiveté of a westerner’s first experience in Asia makes you laugh.

I’ll be covering my revelations about Chinese culture, the colorful history that has shaped Hong Kong, and applicable current events from all over Southeast Asia. Occasionally, I’ll be reflecting on my experiences from Africa as we continue to edit the project and make follow up trips to Tanzania. So whether you’re fluent in Cantonese or have never even considered making a trip to see the Great Wall, I hope that you’ll find something in this series that you enjoy – and that you’ll join in the dialogue too.

– Stephen

Undiscovered New York: Exploring New York’s Chinatown(s)

Welcome to Undiscovered New York. Considering this past Monday was the traditional start of the Chinese New Year, now seems as good a time as any to celebrate one of New York City’s most interesting and diverse neighborhoods: Chinatown.

Upon moving to New York, my initial impression of Chinatown was an overwhelming feeling of the unfamiliar and mysterious. Everything about it seemed so at odds with what I knew and what I understood: huge piles of fish and strange produce glistening on the sidewalk in cardboard boxes, the pungent smells, impenetrable language and strange customs.

Yet as I grew more comfortable with this intriguing neighborhood, its many charms were slowly revealed. It was no longer an area of cheap designer knock-off handbags and pork-fried rice. I saw it as an indispensable part of my city – a neighborhood that was just as integral to my view of New York as the Statue of Liberty or the East Village.

What I also soon discovered is that the Chinatown in Manhattan is only one of three distinct Chinatowns in New York City, with another in the Flushing section of Queens and the newest slowly expanding in Sunset Park in Brooklyn. Each of these three Chinatowns is a unique city-within-a-city, offering a completely diverse array of regional cuisines, interesting stores and unique sights.

Want to learn about some out-of-the-way spots in all three Chinese enclaves? Step inside Undiscovered New York’s guide to exploring the Chinatown(s).
Manhattan’s Chinatown

Centered just east of Broadway and Canal, Manhattan’s Chinatown is definitely New York’s biggest and also its best-known. But there’s still plenty of secrets waiting for the interested visitor. Given the timing of this post, it’s only fair that we mention the Chinese New Year festivities taking place this coming weekend. The big event is arguably the Dragon Parade on Sunday 2/1, which features dancers parading in elaborate dragon costumes down the area’s sidestreets.

Anybody with a hankering for some authentic Chinese food need only point his nose towards one of the area’s many eateries. Dim Sum is one Chinese tradition that’s not to be missed. The meal typically features a variety of small plates like dumplings, spare ribs and Jin deui served in a communal, buffet-style setting. Head over to the Golden Unicorn, grab a seat and watch the servers roll by in a constant parade of carts with interesting foodstuffs. Joe’s Shanghai is another area favorite – they’re known for their soup dumplings filled with steamy broth. Make sure not to put the whole thing in your mouth all at once!

It’s often said that the Chinese are experts in non-traditional herbal medicines. If you’ve ever been curious about Chinese herbal remedies, Chinatown is a great place to learn more. Kamwo Herbal Pharmacy markets itself as the “Largest on the East Coast.” The store feaures over 1,000 different traditional Chinese herbs and ingredients as well as treatments from a licensed acupuncturist.

Queens’ Chinatown
Though Manhattan may have the most famous Chinatown, Queens’ Flushing area may have its most diverse. The area boasts residents from neighboring Taiwan and Korea as well as areas of China as far-flung as Fujian to Lanzhou. One of the best ways to experience it all is by stopping in to one of the area’s numerous food courts. The Flushing Mall features a particular favorite – this otherwise mundane shopping mall features a mouth-watering food court in its basement spanning Sichuan, Taiwanese and Cantonese cuisines.

Flushing also boasts all kinds of quirky shopping sure to please even the most jaded visitor. Magic Castle is a Korean (one non-Chinese pick, sorry!) pop culture store that sells Korean pop music as well as stationary and toys like Hello Kitty. World Book Store features all the latest magazines straight from the Shanghai newsstand.

Brooklyn’s Chinatown
New York’s “newest” Chinatown is probably also its least-visited. Tucked into Brooklyn’s more remote Sunset Park neighborhood it tends to escape notice from visitors but is still well worth a visit.

Like the other Chinatowns, one of the principle attractions is the amazing, authentic Chinese cuisine. Start your visiting by gawking at some strange Chinese foods at the Hong Kong Supermarket, one of New York’s biggest Chinese supermarkets. Sea Town Fish & Meat Market is another interesting local retailer, offering one of Brooklyn’s biggest selections of Chinese specialty seafood items. When you get tired of “looking” at Chinese food and want to eat some, make sure to visit one of the area’s many street vendors for some authentic street food.