Free public seminar on endangered languages: Kelabit (Indonesia)

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Room 2, Taylor Institution, Oxford

Dr Charlotte Hemmings will speak on Kelabit, an endangered language still spoken in Borneo. She will talk about her field work to document this Austronesian language and give insights in linguistic peculiarities of this language.

This is the last in a series of public seminars on endangered languages organised by Dr Johanneke Sytsema, of the Taylor Institution Library and the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology & Phonetics at Oxford University. She says that many of the world’s 7,000 languages are spoken by a small number of people and in danger of becoming extinct. This could have some worrying consequences.

‘For the speakers, this means loss of identity:  being a speaker of a certain small language gives a sense of belonging, of identity that speakers wouldn’t like to lose,’ she says.

‘From a linguist’s point of view, language loss means loss of interesting and possibly unique linguistic structures. For example, some languages have a five base numeral system, which means that ‘six’ is ‘five one’, ‘seven’ is ‘five two’ etc.; there is no separate word for ‘six’ or ‘seven’.

‘Losing such structures robs the world of linguistic beauty, just like losing coral reefs means a loss of natural beauty.’

All are welcome.