DISCLAIMER: This was originally posted on Odyssey.
In order to dispel the stereotype that endangered languages are primitive and no longer have relevance, talented speakers (as well as non-speakers) have taken advantage of popular media in order to raise awareness that it is not the case. Media, such as music, film, and video games, have been used to show that endangered languages are adaptable to modern technology. While communication in these types of languages is important, media can help promulgate them.
Music is especially important when appealing to the younger generation. It would become relevant to young Irish people to hear Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” and Bastille’s “Pompeii” covered in their language, especially when the English language permeates their everyday lives. This medium reaches to the younger generations’ enjoyment as well as deep within their hearts.
Margaret Noodin, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a native Ojibwe speaker, wrote about collaborating with fellow Ojibwe-speakers–Howard Kimewon and Alphonse Pitawankwat–in translating lyrics from Metallica’s “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).” What started as a request from local high school students became a confrontation with problems of the Native American community, such as suicide, especially with lyrics such as “Welcome to where time stands still” and “I fear living on” (Bringing 128).
The emotional connection is what keeps the younger generation engaged. This generation also has interactive connection through video games. There is an independently released PC game that involves the speakers of Iñupiaq, a language indigenous to Alaska, being the voice actors. When the game was released, its very title provided an advertisement both to any young Iñupiaqs who want to connect with their identity as well as the broader consumers whose curiosity of Alaska Native culture might become inspired by the game. It was marketed as “Never Alone” along with the Iñupiaq translation “Kisima Ingitchuna.” There was also an attempt by the Luiseño tribe to revitalize their language via Nintendo DSi, by producing 150 copies of cartridges containing songs, vocabulary, and quizzes to the students.
While music and games appeal to the younger generation, film helps bring a language to a wide audience. It is also a medium which famous actors and directors will use as a language revitalization project. It would involve using the language within the dialogue in order to provide both verisimilitude and broadcasting. In an effort to make “The New World” more realistic, Director Terrence Malick hired linguist Blair Rudes to reconstruct the extinct language spoken by Pocahontas and her tribe, using as sources the original word-lists recorded by John Smith himself and from words from related Algonquin languages. After the film was released, Rudes handed the fruits of his research to the descendants of Pocahontas and worked with Helen Rountree, an expert in Virginia Algonquian tribes, in developing a Virginia Algonquian dictionary.
If popular media can propagate dominant languages, such as English and Spanish; then they would also be impactful if the endangered languages were to be used in the same media. What they offer is direct defiance towards years, if not centuries, of stigmatization and imperialism (both nationalistic and capitalistic.) While documentation of these languages is important, they are not meant to be confined into archives as dictionaries, field-notes, photographs, and sound recordings. Popular media is like the language-speaking workshops that Daryl Baldwin hosted to introduce new speakers of the Myaamia language, which he described them as “…not just about language, but about recovering pieces of your identity.”
To learn more, read “Bringing Out Languages Home: Language Revitalization for Families.”