再不要多久,世界上的少數民族以及原住民族就要無「話」可說了,一來找不到可以用的母語,一來對母語的消失只能無語。

一直有不少人作文章,報導世界的語言正如何快速地消失。現在,世界上約有6,800種語言,大概兩個世代(或60年)以後就剩下不到一半了,隨之而去的還有這世界驕傲的,甚至依賴的文化多樣性。

使用人口的多寡不一定就是讓語言消失的元兇,因為至少3000種語言的使用人口都在2,500人以下,比台灣的阿美族、排灣族、泰雅族都少。真正讓語言消失的原因有一說是源於使用人口的老化,年輕人因為沒有興趣、對自己的失去文化信心、外在環境的脅迫(如政府禁止使用母語)、現實經濟生活的需求……等等因素,漸漸向主流的語言及文化靠攏,同時也漸漸遠離自己的傳統。

為什麼學習其他語言會使自己原來的文化消失呢?根據研究指出,語言跟文化是密不可分的,無法單獨存在。換句話說,不會說排灣語的人不只是失去那個語言而已,漸漸地,他也不再懂得如何用排灣族的眼睛看世界,用排灣族的方式生活。腦神經科學發現,學習另一個語言會使大腦產生生理變化,而後間接改變一個人的思考、感知或觀念。講中文的人的腦子跟講法文的絕對不同,這種差別也就是造就不同文化的基礎。

可惜世界上很多民族被迫或無奈地放棄自己的語言,如果還心盼望日後能以其他方式挽回文化或傳統,可能真就要失望了。到時候大腦的結構都已變化,恐怕徒留心有餘而力不足。

所以有心人開始想盡辦法,使出各種手段解決語言的流失問題。辦理語言巢、母語認證考試制度、開辦鄉土語言課、田野調查紀錄語言、或如美國加州辦理見習的計畫,讓有心人到部落學習傳統技藝(如編織),所有授課過程均使用當地母語,據說300個小時後(約2週)就可以足夠將某些語言傳給下一代了。然而,所有的方法還不如為這些語言設計書寫系統,寫下來的語言可以被研究,甚至也可以起死回生。

台灣的原住民族語言是已經有一套書寫系統了,也辦理用母語創作文學的比賽,作的不少。語言還是重在使用,身邊有了一堆使用某語言的人,自己耳濡目染下也會漸漸學起來。台灣正在學習韓國模式,分別在桃園、花蓮建立「英語村」,同時,是不是也該花花腦筋以及經費來設計比語言巢更完善的「阿美村」、「排灣村」、「泰雅村」……,讓所有的行為以及設施都以當地母語進行與標示?也是不是更應該鼓勵家長,讓他們認知除了英語學校以外的選擇?

不必然要放棄學習主流語言才能保存母語,相反的,在這樣的社會下,應該要更鼓勵學習主流語言,但同時也不能放棄自己原來的語言。一個少數民族以及原住民族學習主流語言的目的是要更會利用它做為挑戰、影響、改變甚或大規模顛覆的工具,猶如黑人或猶太裔都要比白人會使用英文論述,然後攻擊白人自以為的民主及資本神話一樣。而學習自己的母語則是恢復自己與母體文化的關係基礎,建立與別人不同的正當性。

我曾經到過英國的威爾斯(Wales)地區旅遊,發現當地所有的路面指示牌都用雙語(英語及威爾斯語)。真想不到,一直以為只有北邊的蘇格蘭醞釀著要獨立或分離的念頭,沒有到連威爾斯也以自己特有的語言為傲,當時一起坐巴士的當地人說他們本來就不一樣,也絲毫不畏懼將這種不同表現出來。如果英國人可以視這種一國之內不同的聲音為值得尊重與保護的寶,我們應該也可以不要強把通用拼音或漢語拼音灌在原住民族鄉鎮市地區的身上,最起碼我們可以鼓勵恢復當地地名,並且使用適合該族群語言的書寫系統符號標示該地名。這某種程度也是在創造一個語言村。

如此,我也可以把部落的名字還給它,叫它spunqudan,而不是大梅。

參考文章

"Lost for Words-many minority languages are on the danger list"

In the Native American Navajo nation, which sprawls across four states in the American south-west, the native language is dying.  Most of its speakers are middle-aged or elderly.  Although many students take classes in Navajo, the schools are run in Englih.  Street signs, supermarket goods and even their own newspaper are all in English. Not surprisingly, linguists doubt that any native speakers of Navajo will remain in a hundred years' tme.

Navajo is far from alone. Half the world's 6,800 languages are likely to vanish within two generations - that's one language lost every ten days.  Never before has the planet's linguistic diversity shrunk at such a pace.  'At the moment, we are heading for about three or four languages dominating the world,' says Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading.  'It's a mass extinction, and whether we will ever rebound from the loss is difficult to know.'

Isolation breeds linguistic diversity: as a result, the world is peppered with languages spoken by only a few people.  Only 250 languages have more than a million speakers, and at least 3,000 have fewer than 2,500.  It is not necessarily these small languages that are about to disappear.  Navajo is considered endangered despite having 150,000 speakers.  What makes a language endangered is not just the number of speakers, but how old they are.  If it is spoken by children, it is relatively safe.  The critically endangered languages are those that are only spoken by the elderly, according to Michael Krauss, director of the Alaska Native Language Center, in Fairbanks.

Why do people reject the language of their parents?  It begins with a crisis of confidence, when a small community finds itself alongside a larger, wealthier society, says Nicholas Ostler, of Britain's Foundation for Endangered Languages, in Bath.  'People lose faith in their culture,' he says.  'When the next generation reaches their teens, they might not want to be induced into the old traditions.'

The change is not always voluntary.  Quite often, governments try to kill off a minority language by banning its use in public or discouraging its use in schools, all to promote national unity.  The former US policy of running indian reservation schools in English, for example, effectively put languages such as Navajo on the danger list.  But Salikoko Mufwene, who chairs the Linguistics department at the University of Chicago, argues that the deadliest weapon is not government policy, but economic globalization.  'Native Americans have not lost pride in their language, but they have had to adapt to socio-economic pressures,' he says.  'They cannot refuse to speak English if most commercial activity is in English.' 

But are languages worth saving?  At the very least, there is a loss of data for the study of languages and their evolution, which relies on comparisons between languages, both living and dead.  When an unwritten and unrecorded language disappears, it is lost to science.

Languages is also intimately bound up with culture, so it may be difficult to preserve one without the other.  'If a person shifts form Navajo to English, they lost something,' Mufwene says.  'Moreover, the loss of diversity may also deprive us of different ways of looking at the world,' says Pagel.  There is mounting evdience that learning a language produces physiological changes in the brain.  'Your brain and mine are different from the brain of someone who speaks French, for instance,' Pagel says, and this could affect our thoughts and perceptions.  'The patterns and connections we make among various concepts may be structured by the linguistic habits of our community.'

So despite linguists' best efforts, many languages will disappear over the next century.  But a growing interest in cultural identity may prevent the direst predictions from coming true.  'The key to fostering diversity is for people to learn their ancestral tongue, as well as the dominant language,' says Doug Whalen, founder and president of the Endangered Language Fund in New Haven, Connecticut.  'Most of these languages will not survive without a large degree of bilingualism,' he says.  In New Zealand, classes for children have slowed the erosion of Maori and rekindled interest in the language.  A similar approach in Hawaii has produced about 8,000 new speakers of Polynesian languages in the past few years.  In California, 'apprentice' programs have provided life support to several indigenous languages.  Volunteer 'apprentices' pair up with one of the last living  speakers of a Native American tongue to learn a traditional skill such as basket weaving, with instruction exclusively in the endangered language.  After about 300 hours of training, they are generally sufficiently fluent to transmit the language to the next generation. 

But Mufwene says that preventing a language from dying out is not the same as giving it new life by using it every day.  'Preserving a language is more like preserving fruits in a jar,' he says.  However, preservation can bring a language back from the dead.  There are examples of languages that have survived in written form and then been revived by later generations.  But a written form is essential for this, so the mere possibility of revival has led many speakers of endangered languages to develop systems of writing where none existed before.

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Yedda Wang (2008.12-2009.07)

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