Posted by: DCox | February 20, 2009

Lost Words

Every two weeks, one of the world’s 7,000 languages vanishes; most belong to indigenous communities that have been stamped out and homogenized by colonialists. – Newsweek, February 23, 2009

binaryPlaying with the numbers – one language lost every two weeks

    26 languages lost each year

    269 years until everyone in the world speaks the same language … will it be English or binary code(zeros and ones)?

There currently are 516 nearly extinct languages. What’s surprising to me is the long list of endangered languages indigenous to North America.


The quote from Newsweek reminded me once again of the importance of words. To understand a culture, really understand a culture, you need to learn the language. Words may possess meaning that that isn’t easily translated. Why – because the worldview is embedded in the words and reflects the very deepest things of a group of people. As a result, you won’t fully know the culture unless you know the language. Each language has a richness that is part of the DNA of the culture.

The loss of words is truly a loss. [click on this link if you’re interested in reading more about why we should care about endangered languages]


Here, from a survey of translators, are the top ten most difficult foreign words to translate [from Marginal Revolution.com].
1 ilunga [Tshiluba word for a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time; to tolerate it a second time; but never a third time. Note: Tshiluba is a Bantu language spoken in south-eastern Congo, and Zaire]
2 shlimazl [Yiddish for a chronically unlucky person]
3 radioukacz [Polish for a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain]
4 naa [Japanese word only used in the Kansai area of Japan, to emphasise statements or agree with someone]
5 altahmam [Arabic for a kind of deep sadness]
6 gezellig [Dutch for cosy]
7 saudade [Portuguese for a certain type of longing]
8 selathirupavar [Tamil for a certain type of truancy]
9 pochemuchka [Russian for a person who asks a lot of questions]
10 klloshar [Albanian for loser]


spamAnd a difficult English word to translate… Spam

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