Ever heard of Kristang, Mawayana, or Mortlockese? As I started to write this foreword on Microsoft Word, I predicted that the names of these languages would be marked with peskily uninformed red lines. True enough, those red lines appeared—and they marked out those words as more than just unrecognisable. If the spellchecker doesn’t recognise those languages, how can we be expected to?
This third issue of Unravel explores the world of endangered languages. Of the approximately 7,102 known living languages in the world, nearly half are endangered and are at risk of being lost by the next generation. This means that whole communities could lose their heritage, and the world would be so much less diverse—given the current, accelerated state of globalisation, even one speech community dissolved is just one too many. Giving recognition to languages (including pidgins and creoles) affirms the worth of the people who speak it, and the unique cultures that make up their lives. For many speakers of endangered languages, this recognition has vital implications for their livelihood, identity, and continuity, which majority-language speakers often take for granted.
It appears that since the last issue, we here at Unravel have adopted Kristang as our endangered language of particular interest. In March, we drove up to Malaysia to meet native Kristang speakers and immersed ourselves in some amazing Kristang cuisine and hospitality. I’m glad to say that the Interrogatives section now features Dr Stefanie Pillai, who tells us about the state and vulnerability of Kristang in Malaysia. Our Chief Editor, Kevin, translates his beautiful experience with Kristang into a wonderful narrative piece in one of this issue’s special feature articles. Kevin’s passion for his heritage language has also led him to take on the admirable role of mestri di papiah Kristang (or Kristang teacher) to an intrepid class of five students, including myself.
Playing equally important roles in revealing the world of endangered languages for this issue’s special feature are Peter Austin, who shares his thoughts and experiences in the field of language conservation and endangered languages in our Interrogatives section; Emerson Lopez Odango, who meticulously profiles the endangered Mortlockese language, and Marc Ettlinger, who reflects on the changeable future of Mawayana. As part of our continued effort to unravel word and world, we also have contributions from fellow journalinguists Rebecca Benest, whose language profile of Swahili would have us appreciate Disney’s Lion King all over again; See Wern Hao, who delves into the science of political correctness; Daniel Adler, who explores the lively inner workings of Cockney Rhyming Slang of London’s East End; and Ebany Dohle, who details various online tools for mapping language variation, so that you too can observe language use and change around the world. (Read her Dialogue post here for a thorough guide to navigating the Language Landscape website.)
In the last issue of Unravel, we explored the eclecticism of language translation, which, for me, brings to mind the words of Russian translator, Vera Gordienko: “translation is a form of art meant to keep us all together.” In line with the theme of keeping people together, Issue 3 looks at how language can unite people. Since the birth of Unravel last November 2014, this notion has become ostensibly truer for me, through all the people I’ve come to know since, new friendships forged, and all the opportunities I’ve had in the name of Unravel. I’m ever grateful to all our editors, writers, designers, advisors, proofreaders, hosts (including Kevin’s lovely family for anoti-anoti di lisang Kristang), supporters, and readers from all over the world—for whom we have devoted many of our waking hours to produce this third issue, which I hope will be enjoyable.
Have a great read!
Frances Loke Wei
Assistant Editor, Unravel
PS: If you like what you’re reading, share your language with the world! Feel free to contribute an article in any of the languages we accept submissions in: Arabic, German, Spanish, English, French, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Swahili, Portuguese, Russian, and Chinese (and potentially Kristang!).