Witnessing The Death Of A Piece Of Human History: The Day the Light Went Out For A People.

I will be able to say, “I was there!”, when it happened. I am witnessing something that gives me great sadness; a transition in the human history of a whole ethnic group of people. Is it even as tragic as we first think? Maybe it indicates a new beginning for this people? You tell me!

IMG_20140207_113453What do these kids have in common……?  They have totally lost their ability to speak the mother tongue of their people.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” (Nelson Mandela)

These children do not even speak the colonial language of French; they now speak Bambara. The Bambara are a major ethnic group in Mali, and their language became the universal market language for much of West Africa (Jula, Dioula). Though the adults still speak their mother tongue, none of the small children do.

 “There’s no such thing as dead languages, only dormant minds.” (Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind)

I am totally at a loss as to why this is. The whole village is ethnic Samogho Duungoma, with an odd Senofou family, so it is not as if they were forced to speak Bambara all the time at home, or in their village to communicate with neighbors who do not speak their language. 

“I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.” (Jane Wagner, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe)

The village is isolated and in a very rural place, so you would think they could sit at home and speak Duungooma freely and easily. There are Senefou villages further south, and the common language between them would be the market language of Bambara.

However, when you return to your own village, your own home, why would you speak a foreign language with your own children? I am not a linguist, so the deciding indicators, or triggers that lead to a languages death are unknown to me.

IMG_20140207_113435But here it is, right in front of my eyes and ears. A village I am doing community development with is losing its language with this generation of children.  Not one of the small children in their entire village (all of whom are double the age you think, for their size. They are stunted from poor nutrition)  speak their ethnic mother tongue any more. Will they as a people regret this choice?

Another ethnic Samogho dialect village I work with has no one left with the ability to speak their mother tongue of Samogho Bankagooma. At least 50% , or more, of this whole ethnic group no longer speaks their mother tongue.  Of the 10- 15,000 ethnic Banka, maybe as few as 5000 still have the ability to speak their own language at all. Frankly, for the Bankagooma, it is too late. Within ten, at most, twenty years, the Bankagooma language will only be a memory. 

Who would have though a fishing boy from the east coast of Canada would be here to witness a tragic part of human history? I am one of a handful of westerners who have ever heard the Bankagooma language spoken. And I will be among the handful of  western people, the  last western people, to ever hear the Bankagooma language on this earth, EVER….

It is a very sad bragging right, is it not? Is a light going out, or a light coming on for these people?

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

IMG_20140207_113214
Watching His Peoples Language Rapidly Disappear!

I can’t do much about people’s language choices, and I cannot speak any of the Samogho dialects. I have only one language I can speak that they understand…… I am 4 languages removed from my mother tongue to communicate with them.

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” (Mark Twain)

I wish….. but even “The Invisible Humanitarian’s”  magic cape of power can not pull this one off.

“I picked up a new language a few months ago. It was just laying on the ground, dirty, so I scooped it up and popped it in my mouth. 
” (Jarod Kintz, This Book Has No Title)

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