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The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the…
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The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World's Most Endangered Languages (edition 2010)

by K. David Harrison (Author)

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1581176,327 (3.67)11
Part travelogue and part scientist's notebook, The Last Speakers is the poignant chronicle of author K. David Harrison's expeditions around the world to meet with last speakers of vanishing languages. The speakers' eloquent reflections and candid photographs reveal little-known lifeways as well as revitalization efforts to teach disappearing languages to younger generations. Thought-provoking and engaging, this unique book illuminates the global language-extinction crisis through photos, graphics, interviews, traditional wisdom never before translated into English, and first-person essays that thrillingly convey the adventure of science and exploration. - Publisher.… (more)
Member:jhonran
Title:The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World's Most Endangered Languages
Authors:K. David Harrison (Author)
Info:National Geographic (2010), 304 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World's Most Endangered Languages by K. David Harrison

  1. 00
    The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis (Yervant)
    Yervant: Both works explore the sum of human knowledge contained in minority languages, which are disappearing at an alarming rate.
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» See also 11 mentions

I never really got into this one. I had thought it would either be about the linguistics of endangered and exotic languages or an anthropology of the speakers' cultures. Maybe both. Technically I suppose it was both, but with all the effectiveness of a combination fax machine/scanner/copy machine.

The only thing this book really commits to is regaling you with the author's personal travels on his quest to save endangered languages. How exactly he intends to do this is anyones guess. He has palatable distaste for the nuts and bolts of linguistics, you know, sorting out grammars and origins and such not and his documentation of language and their corresponding cultures is painfully shallow. Then there's the fact that you really can't do much to save a language from the outside, only the speakers can save it. What he does do is never miss an opportunity to remind his readers that this particular language could disappear very soon. It's as if he thinks his readers aren't capable of retaining the definition of "endangered" for more than 20 pages. Couple that with his rather questionable claim that the extinction of each of these languages will mean the loss of invaluable information and my sentiment quotas get maxed out pretty quick.

Make no mistake. I am an information for information's sake sort of girl. I'm doing the Dewey challenge after all. What bugged me was that Harrison did such a shoddy job of relaying the sort of unique information that these language speakers had a monopoly on that his vague claim that something like 80-90% of information is contained entirely in verbal communication flirts with the sort of woo that gets people believing that if only that ancient culture hadn't died off and taken their ancient medical secrets with them we could cure frickin' lymphoma with berries and organic honey. I wouldn't be surprised if 80-90% of human knowledge was not available in any written form. But make no mistake, that's because most of it is personal experience content that might have sociological, anthropological or historical merit, but would rarely effect change on contemporary life. It's interesting to learn about how tribal yak herders herd their yaks, but it's not changing anyone's life, except in the rare case of aspiring yak herders.

All and all I didn't get much of what I wanted out of this book. The linguistics and anthropology were both really superficial and frankly I get a bit exasperated by writers that make themselves the center of their books when said book really shouldn't be about them. ( )
3 vote fundevogel | Mar 31, 2011 |
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Epigraph
Dying languages succumb more discreetly. Village by village they go under—no shouting, no watery ruckus. Just a simple, sudden absence. It takes a shrewd eye to spot these silent catastrophes, and a frugal, determined heart to intervene. —John Goulet
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For Khiem H. Tang
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My journey as a scientist exploring the world's vanishing languages has taken me from the Siberian forests to the Bolivian Altiplano, from a fast-food restaurant in Michigan to a trailer park in Utah.
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Part travelogue and part scientist's notebook, The Last Speakers is the poignant chronicle of author K. David Harrison's expeditions around the world to meet with last speakers of vanishing languages. The speakers' eloquent reflections and candid photographs reveal little-known lifeways as well as revitalization efforts to teach disappearing languages to younger generations. Thought-provoking and engaging, this unique book illuminates the global language-extinction crisis through photos, graphics, interviews, traditional wisdom never before translated into English, and first-person essays that thrillingly convey the adventure of science and exploration. - Publisher.

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