M is for Maori

MMaori belongs to the Eastern Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. It is spoken by the Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand) and has been an official language of New Zealand since 1987. Until the late 18th century it was the only language, closely related to Tahitian and Hawai’ian.

After the arrival of British settlers in New Zealand, English became the dominant language and only English was allowed to be spoken in school. Children who spoke Maori were punished. By the 1980s only about 20% of the Maori people spoke Te Reo as the language is known in Maori. Te Reo (short for Te Reo Maori) means “the language”.

From the 1980s there have been efforts to save the language from extinction, but it is still vulnerable and appears on the UNESCO endangered languages list.

One of the ways to protect the language was the setting up of “language nests” known as Kohanga Reo which is an immersion program for pre-school children where they socialise with older generations who are fluent speakers.

If you’d like to find out more about Maori and few words, there’s an interesting free course at Open2Study. You may also like this list of words.

Related posts:  L is for Latvian and Lithuanian     N is for……

L is for Latvian and Lithuanian

LThese two languages are the only two surviving languages of the Baltic subdivision of Proto-Indo-European. They are also believed to be the ones which are closest, linguistically speaking, to PIE, retaining many of its features. Although they probably started out as dialects of each other, they now have very different vocabularies and are not mutually intelligible. Both languages use the Latin alphabet.

Latvian is spoken by approximately 1.3 million native speakers and a further 700,000 people speak it as a second language. Lithuanian has about 3 ½ million speakers.

Related posts: K is for Korean and Kickapoo    M is for….

Immigration in Europe: Map of the percentages and countries of origin of immigrants

As a language teacher, I find these maps fascinating. Speaking another language opens doors to so many different cultures, and I’ve always loved travelling and visiting different countries and experiencing different ways of life.

Although the time when I could have happily emigrated has long gone, I can think of so many reasons why other people might choose to settle in a country other than where they were born: love, work, different opportunities….

Immigration in Europe: Map of the percentages and countries of origin of immigrants.

K is for Korean and Kickapoo

Like Basque and Japanese, Korean is a language isolate. It has about 70 million speakers in North and South Korea, and a further 5 million or so in NE China, parts of Japan, and small communities in Russia and the USA.

Until the 15th century Korean used Chinese characters for writing, and only the elite were able to read and write. In the 15th century the monarch, King Sejong, invented a new writing system which was more alphabetic, and this made writing more accessible to people.

Known as Hangul, the system consists of 24 symbols, representing vowel and consonant sounds which are written in a “box” approximately the same size as a Chinese character. Each “box” has a consonant-vowel-consonant symbol, written roughly left to right, top to bottom.

It has a subject-object-verb sentence structure and includes many basic words from old Chinese as well as an increasing number of borrowings from English.

Kickapoo, also written Kikapú, is not a well-known language – in fact it has only about 250 speakers, making it in danger of extinction – but it has such a great name I simply had to include it in my A-Z!

It belongs to the Algonquin family of languages. It originated in the Great Lakes area in North America, but is now almost extinct in the USA and most of its speakers live in Mexico. The language used to include “whistle speech” where each sound could be represented by whistle, but this aspect of the language has now died out from the lack of use.

Whistle languages were mostly used by hunters and herders, so that they could communicate without frightening the animals. The limitations of whistle sounds meant that many sentences were ambiguous, making this aspect of the language only useful in certain circumstances.

Sadly I can’t point you in the direction of a Kickapoo course, but if you fancy learning some Korean, have a look at FutureLearn.

Related posts: J is for Japanese     L is for…….

J is for Japanese

Like Basque, Japanese is known as a language isolate, which means that it does not belong to a language family. There have been attempts by linguists to link it to other languages, such as Korean, but there are not enough cognates between Japanese and any other language to prove a relationship between them.

Spoken almost exclusively in Japan (about 99% of its native speakers live there), Japanese has approximately 125 million speakers.

It has a roughly subject-object-verb sentence structure, with the verb going at the end of the sentence. Adjectives go before the noun like in English.

The first written evidence of Japanese dates to the 8th century. It now has 3 writing systems which are all used simultaneously:

  • Kanji: these are the characters which they imported from the Chinese writing system. They are used for a lot of the basic words in Japanese.
  • Hiragana: this is used for writing Japanese words that have no kanji form, and also for writing suffixes, etc.
  • Katakana: this is used for loan words – phonetic transcriptions of foreign words.

Japanese can be written horizontally, reading from left to right, or vertically, reading from top to bottom, right to left.

Related posts: I is for invented languages     K is for Korean and Kickapoo