Read the introduction and chapters 1, 2 & 3 of The Last Speakers (Harrison 2010). If you did not purchase this text at the beginning of term, you can access this reading on Blackboard under Content > Readings.
After reading these chapters, answer the following questions in no more than 350 – 500 words (about 150 words for each question), total.
Question 1: Harrison claims that first descriptions of many languages come from the work of Christian missionaries. Briefly discuss some problems associated with contact between Christian missionaries and indigenous peoples, in terms of both culture and language.
Question 2: Harrison argues that language is crucial for passing on complex cultural knowledge. When languages are lost many words that contain valuable cultural knowledge are lost. Harrison specifically discusses the word “iy” in the Tuvan language of Siberia (Chapter 2). This word is pronounced like “e” in English (IPA [i]). Answer the following questions about this word.
What does the Tuvan word “iy” refer to?
Is there any single English word that is equivalent to “iy”?
Have you ever noticed an “iy” before in your own life? If not, why do you think this is the case?
Explain how the Tuvan word “iy” reflects part of the traditional cultural knoweldge of the Tuvan people.
Question 3: When languages are lost, linguists lose valuable opportunities to understand what is possible in language. Our understanding of language would be greatly limited if we were only able to study English and other major world languages. Some languages contain rare patterns, which linguists might assume cannot exist unless they discover a language which has the pattern. Harrison gives a specific example of this situation in discussing the Urarina language (Chapter 3). Based on Harrison’s discussion, answer the following questions about Urarina.
What is special about Urarina grammar (what is the rare pattern)?
Why was this characteristic of Urarina grammar important for linguists to discover?
In terms of scientific value, how is losing a language like Urarina similar to losing an endangered plant or animal species?