Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World’s Languages, is without question, the book that inspired me the most to make this film. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to speak to Dr. Daniel Nettle, one of the co-authors of Vanishing Voices several years ago. And you can listen to that interview here: http://acrossthekingsriver.com/press/
Scholars say that at least half of the world’s languages may die out in the next century, and when languages die we lose a vast body of knowledge (scientific, medicinal, linguistic, botanical, etc.) because the accumulated wisdom of humanity is encoded in language and many languages that are on the verge of extinction are not well documented.
The authors of Vanishing Voices argue that “the extinction of languages is part of the larger picture of the near total collapse of the worldwide eco-system.”
As I read the book, I couldn’t help but think of the vast body of healing knowledge in Ifa and other African spiritual systems. If we allow our spiritual traditions to die, in many ways we will die too.
The issue of language extinction is a complex one. Although some cultures “abandon” their language in favor of another, external pressures are often the root cause of language extinction. In the book, “Ifa Will Mend Our Broken World,” Yoruba scholar Wande Abimbola says: “The school system in Africa has to be decolonized. It is still a colonial entity. Colonialism and slavery have not ended on the African continent. Once a people are not allowed to use their own mother tongue for education from infancy, their minds have been colonized! The conceptual space in their minds has been occupied by the language that they now speak, which makes them more or less like robots.”
I’ve been studying the Yoruba language for more than 10 years. Though I speak it fluently, I know I’ll be a student for the rest of my life. I must admit that I am disheartened that very few people in the African diaspora speak the language. It’s not that difficult to learn – the keys are dedication and hard work. You must make it a way of life. Here are some tips for those who wish to learn a new language:
1. Make it part of your daily routine. Don’t just take classes.
2. In addition to studying books, watch movies in the language you wish to learn.
3. Don’t make excuses: practice, practice, practice.
I recently saw a video of a young, white American man speaking Yoruba. I was inspired by his dedication and his fluency. If he can learn it, and I have learned it, what’s stopping you? Here’s the link to the video: Kayode Oyinbo Speaking Yoruba