Category Archives: Endangered languages

Istriot, a language as beautiful as the Adriatic coast

Welcome back to our blog for endangered languages!

As promised, we are continuing our blog series on endangered languages, and this week we’re presenting Istriot!

When we refer to Istriot we don’t just mean the beautiful region that extends from Venice over to Croatia, we also refer to the Istriotic language, that for a long time was considered as a Venetian dialect. Today we know that Istriot is an indigenous Romance language, dating from as far back as pre-Venetian time, and that it was spoken on the Istrian peninsula.

It is ranked by the UNESCO as ‘severely endangered’. According to the 2002 census, only 400 people speak the language today.


Istriot is suffering from a big crisis. Once spoken in the whole northern region of the Adriatic coast, now there remain only a few villages in which this language is spoken or understood: in Rovinj (it. Rovigno), Vodnjan (Vodnjan), Bale (Valle), Fažana (Fasana), Galižana (Gallesano) and Šišan (Sissano). It has gone from being an actively used language to one which is struggling to survive. The problem is that young people whose mother tongue is Istriot are choosing to use Croatian in conversation, even when they talk to their relatives. This is happening despite the fact that many of them were born and raised bilingual and it is the reason why the language is not being passed on to future generations.

Surrounded by two strong languages, Italian and Croatian, Istriot doesn’t have a leg to stand on and is at risk of vanishing in just a few generations. Influences from the two neighbour languages, Croatian and Italian, are very strong on all linguistic levels from pronunciation to the use of words.

To give you a feel for Istriot and its similarity to Italian, we have selected this abstract of a poem by an anonymous writer from Rovinnj, who signed it with his pen name Andria Uòrgani (1843). The name of the poem is “Il mendicante d’amore” – the beggar for love.

Istriot Italian English Translation
Se biella ti me pari
cù ti rèidi
Biella ti son
quando ti pjuri


Cù ti trùvi baròufa,
cù ti crèidi,
Chi ca te vjdo dòuti
se ‘namura.
Se bella tu mi appari
quando ridi
Bella tu sei anche
quando piangi,
Quando cerchi baruffa,
quando gridi,
Chiunque ti vede
di te s’innamora.
Every time you laugh
you are beautiful
You are pretty
even when you cry,
When you want to have a row,
when you scream
Whoever sees you,
falls in love with you.

Many Istriot speakers consider themselves to be Italian and don’t know that what they speak is an indigenous Romance language, not a Venetian dialect. Linguists fear that Istriot is going to become extinct in the near future. Nowadays it is very hard to find Istriot speakers in the villages mentioned above but the place were it is best conserved is Bale.

In hope of avoiding the disappearance of their mother tongue, some artists have begun to create works in their language, for example Istrian songs and literature. We recommend you the Croatian musician Tamara Obrovac, who has launched a project for the revitalisation of the Istriot language. Here is a video of her song ‘Se me ra morta privari’, enjoy:

The Language Archive opens in Berlin

Great news for all language fans out there: This month, the Max Planck Institute has opened The Language Archive in Berlin, one of the largest linguistic archives in the world! We wish all the best to The Archive on its inauguration and we are looking forward to seeing the development of this new space for language research.

Storing information about endangered languages online is an excellent way to keep a record of their pronunciation. The special units Busuu and Silbo Gomero on are further examples of how you can get a taste of exotic and endangered languages that you are unlikely to experience when travelling abroad. With the audio files you can try out the language for yourself, and perfect your pronunciation! You may not be likely to use it in real life, but it is certainly great fun!


The Language ArchiveBy creating a space for research and the conservation of languages, The Language Archive also provides an account of the cultures, people and history that the language embraces. This valuable cultural heritage is now preserved for current and future generations of researchers who log in to the database.

Storing already 80 Terabytes (written out that’s 80,000,000,000,000 bytes!!!) worth of data from over 200 languages, The Language Archive plans to further extend its collection in the future.

Languages constantly change, cease and disappear. As stated in our blog entry on the European Day of Languages, 50% of the 6,000 to 7,000 existing ones are likely to become extinct by the end of this century. However, as we have seen in this blog entry, this does not mean that they will be forgotten!

Are you ready to get out there and discover some extraordinary languages for yourself? Try out our special learning units for Busuu and Silbo Gomero – a whole new way to test your foreign language skills!

European Day of Languages

We at love languages and as it’s the 10th anniversary of the European Day of Languages we would like to present you with one curious language fact for each year.

Before we get going, we have great news for you! Our back-to-school promotion was such a success that we decided to extend the offer and grant you a 15% discount on all our products until Sunday, the 2nd of October 2011.

Just like the Council of Europe, which created the European Day of Languages as part of the European year of languages in 2001, wants to encourage language learning, not only in Europe but across the whole world. In case you didn’t already know, our online community connects people from over 200 different countries, with each person teaching their native language whilst also learning new ones.

Today’s blog entry is not so much about learning languages (for study advice, check our motivational tips), but about language curiosities. Did you know that:

1. There are between 6,000 and 7,000 languages in the world – spoken by six billion people.

2. Experts warn that by the end of this century half of these languages will disappear if nothing is done.

3. It is estimated that in the United States alone, 115 out of 280 languages disappeared in the last five centuries.

4. The majority of the world’s languages are spoken in Asia and Africa.

5. At least half of the world’s population are bilingual or multilingual.

6. Bilingualism not only makes the learning of additional languages easier, it enriches the thinking process, as well.

7. Many languages have over 50,000 words, but in everyday conversation people use the same few hundred words.

8. Languages are constantly changing: In the past, English borrowed words from other languages, now many languages borrow English words.

9. At the age of five, a child already has a vocabulary of several thousand words.

10. Back to Europe: There are about 225 indigenous languages in Europe. That’s 3% of the world’s total.

If these facts make you thirstier for more language learning, don’t forget that until the 2nd of October 2011, you get discounted access to our premium memberships and additional products!

PS: Let’s be honest. We didn’t come up with all these facts ourselves. Further information can be found on the website of the European Day of Languages and in the UNESCO‘s data on endangered languages.



Nganasan, The language from the North

Welcome back to our blog for endangered languages!

In this month’s blog entry, we want to give you a small account of Nganasan, a Syberian language that is ranked by the UNESCO as severely endangered. Nganasan is spoken by a small population living on the Siberian Taymyr Peninsula in the Arctic Ocean. According to the 2002 census, only 505 people speak the language.

Nganasan belongs to the so-called Samoyed languages, which stem from the Uralic language family. The root ‘Ngana‘ means ‘true’ or ‘genuine’, whereas ‘Nganasan’ (нганасаны) can be translated as ‘man’ and often these expressions are used together in ngano nganasan – ‘genuine (our) man’.

Until the 1930s the Nganasans led a nomadic life, hunting or breeding reindeer and fishing. Due to their isolated location, the language did not have much contact with other languages (except for other Samoyed languages) until the second half of the 20th century, when they settled in multi-ethnic villages and the language started to decline.

Nganasans aged 40 or less, have only very fragmentary knowledge of Nganasan and Russian has become the first language for the younger generations. Nowadays, Russian words and phrases form part of Nganasan speech and a sudden switch of Nganasan to Russian, depending on the subject or partner, is very common in conversations.

Nganasan has never been a written language; however, in the 1990s, a Cyrillic-based alphabet was created and a small number of books of Nganasan folklore were published. Also since the 1990s, Nganasan has been taught in three schools of the main villages where Nganasans resettled during the second half of the last century.

Nganasan folklore is strongly rooted in story-telling and songs. We found this video to give you an impression of this beautiful Nganasan language and culture:

We hope you will enjoy watching this video as much as we did!

Breton, The language of Brittany’s medieval upper class

“Demat” is what the noble Brittophones would say to greet you.

This month, we want to introduce you to the Breton language, a Brythonic language with Celtic roots spoken by only 200,000 people in Brittany, in the North West of France. Up to the 12th century, this language was spoken by the upper class of the region. In the early 20th century, it was still spoken by 1.3 million people. This drastic decrease in the number of speakers in the last century was the reason why the UNESCO ranked it as a language in severe danger of extinction and why we decided to present it on our blog for endangered languages.

Breton is not legally recognized as an official language by the state of France, nor was it taught in schools until very recently. In 1999, the Office of Breton language was founded to promote Breton in all spheres of social and public life. The network of bilingual schools is currently growing and local communities are beginning to implement proactive language policies to counteract the imminent threat of extinction. Another attempt to bring the Breton vocabulary back to people’s mind is the terminology center TermBret, where, among other functions, one can consult an online dictionary to translate French terms into Breton and vice versa.

A very unique characteristic of Breton is the “zh”, a little orthographic character which allows a common script for two possible pronunciations. In fact, the word Brezhoneg (Breton Language) can be pronounced “brezoneg” or “brehoneg”, depending on the region. This character became very popular and is nowadays the symbol of both Brittany and Breton.

Every language implies a unique mindset, culture and history. The most visible aspect of Breton culture is its music, which is strongly influenced by Celtic rhythms. The work and creativity of musicians and the increasing number and diversity of festivals, fest-noz, have aimed at spreading the Breton culture; also preserving the traditional Breton dance.

Who says that rare languages are only spoken in their original region? Breton is also taught in Alego, Kenya! Beatrice Ouma discovered the Breton language when studying in France and decided to learn and teach it in her country. Her idea was that just as any endangered plant or species, an endangered language needs to be relocated in order to grow stronger. She has taken up the cause of teaching children in her village to count, sing and speak in Breton, in order to keep this foreign language alive.

Try learning Breton yourself! Here you have some basic vocabulary to get a first impression of the language!

Breton French English
Demad! Bonjour ! Hello!
Degemer mad! Bienvenue! Welcome!
Kenavo Au revoir Goodbye
Mar plij S’il te/vous plaît Please
Trugarez Merci thank you
Yec’hed mad! À la vôtre! Cheers!