Minority languages

I just returned from a week-long vacation trip to a country whose native language is quite foreign to my own. The good news is that throughout my journey I was able to understand and communicate quite well. However, this was Ireland where the language in common use is English, so not terribly impressive. The bad news is the degree to which the native Irish Gaelic has declined.

We did encounter some Irish along the way, though most of it decreed. All road signs are bilingual, as are the informational placards placed in parks and historic sites by the government. I first heard Irish being spoken in Glendalough, south of Dublin, encouragingly by a mother to her young children. In the Gaeltacht areas of Connacht I noticed a few signs in Irish only. We had lunch in a small pub south of Galway in the village of Kilfenora where a handful of locals were watching a hurling match that was televized in Irish.

I’m no expert, I only know what I read about the Irish language. Its use as a first language is said to be in severe decline. But there is apparently increased adoption to some degree as a second language, particularly among certain urban classes as a matter of cultural identity. I wonder how that kind of usage might change a language – large numbers of learned speakers using it amongst themselves rather than with native speakers. Can they ever sound native and natural to a native speaker’s ears?

Irish and the other Gaelic languages are Indo-European, but it is very hard for me to identify any familiar friends in the bits I’ve seen. It’s very strange. Part of the difficulty may be an orthography that hides familiar sounds behind unfamiliar spelling. I did tentatively identify the root of at least one word by reversing the b->p->f sound shift described by Grimm’s Law; such shifts of course mask the familiar.

It would be fun to dabble in Irish on Lingq, which is not currently possible. I understand the practical constraints on adding new beta languages. I imagine there are other sources available if I really wanted to pursue it. But people and groups that endeavor to support endangered languages seem to be very motivated and zealous, which makes me wonder whether it would be worth their while for the Linq team to court such groups to create the requisite content for some minority languages.


It is fascinating, but languages come and go, it’s just how the world works and there isn’t anything we can do about it. There are, however, several other minority languages that are very much so alive and well such as basque and catalan.

Finnish is also (relatively speaking) a small, weird, isolated language.

Yes, indeed. Here in Mexico we are loosing so many dialects, and as if that were not enough, people is taking less and less care of spanish itself by adding more and more words from other countries such as USA.

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I tried playing around with Irish on Duolingo a couple of days ago. It is indeed a unique language, completely different from anything I’ve seen with the Romantic and Germanic languages.

It’s sad to realise languages and dialects die out or get assimilated. My own native tongue, Flemish, is spoken by maybe 7 million people in the world (vast majority in Flanders itself, of course) and this includes various dialects. West-Flemish, East-Flemish, Brabantian (Antwerp), Limburgish and smaller variations within each of them. As a native Fleming, I of course would love to keep this language alive, but this has plenty of difficulties. There’s no official spelling for any of the Flemish dialects, so that prevents any standardized schooling for it. We just pretty much write however we think the sounds are written. E.g. “kè” or “ki” both meaning “I have”. Making it generally an only spoken language. Furthermore, French, Dutch and English all have been influencing the population, causing the very slow degeneration of our dialects over the course of over a thousand years. Although the upside is that, despite more than a thousand years of trying to get rid of it, Flemish still exists and there is a certain degree of pride in it. (as the Flemish national flag as my avatar may indicate).

We do have a certain legacy in the sense that both Dutch and Afrikaans are linguistic descendants of Flemish, so there’s that.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’d love it if the Flemish dialects were to be officially recognised as a collective minority language and could be officially taught, to prevent it from going extinct. After all, a language is not just a collection of words. It’s a culture, a mindset, an understanding of what it is to be Flemish (or other).


If you want to talk about minority languages: Have you guys heard of Manchu? It was the language of the Qing Dynasty and ruled China for 300 years. It now is down to only 10 native speakers left in the world. Manchu, Former Empire’s Language, Hangs On at China’s Edge - The New York Times

When Lydian and Elamite died out thousands of years ago, I’m sure many people were also lamenting at the fall of these tongues that likely contained vivid idioms and associated traditions.

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