This weekend, the last living speakers of yet another endangered language will be buried, sending the tongue into extinction.  Shall we observe a minute of silence?

You might ask, why: after all, the dead are mourned by friends and relatives, not by strangers. If all the speakers of a dead language are dead as well,  logically, there should be no keepers of the wake, no mourners at the graveside.

Yet, in a sense, we are all bereaved.

Sometimes I listen to an old woman’s spontaneous poetry in Igbo and realise that English, for all her depth, has no words of the right texture and sheer… deliciousness for a true translation. To translate it will be to jade a colour photograph into black and white.

The wake of an extinct language voices the millennial sigh of centuries of ancestors, because there are no words left in the world to speak her obsequies. So let us hold our tongues a minute, to mourn the loss of colour that we cannot see, streams of thought we cannot swim, and world views now blinded, forever.

And when we find our tongues again, let them speak if they still can, for a moment or two, in those languages that will soon die for want of passionate speakers.


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