Tag Archives: UNESCO

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 Busuu

Did you know where the name of our website busuu.com comes from?

Busuu is actually a language from Cameroon in Africa, spoken by only 8 people!

It was first “discovered” by the French professor of linguistics Roland Breton in the year 1986. According to his and more recent research, the language, with the ISO 639 identifier “bju“, belongs to the Niger-Congo language family or in detail, the so called unclassified Southern Bantoid language family.

The UNESCO included the language Busuu within their highly interesting Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. There, the language is classified as “critically endangered“. Below you can see exactly the area, where the language is supposed to be spoken by those 8 people. Just click on the picture and you can find out more about the region which is close to the border between Nigeria and Cameroon.

Who are those 8 people that still speak Busuu? How do they look like? Do they know about busuu.com? ;-) Maybe one day, we will find out…

The UNESCO estimates that there are around 3,000 endangered languages world-wide. This is nearly half of the 6,500 languages spoken around the globe. Since 1950, already 230 languages extinct!

We from busuu.com hope that we can also contribute to preserve some of those endangered languages. Do you remember our campaign to rescue the Silbo Gomero, the nearly extinct whistled language from the Gomera Islands in Spain?

Shortly after the launch of our video, for which we received a Silver Lion in the International Marketing Festival in Cannes, the Silbo Gomero was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity!

We are absolutely convinced that if busuu.com can be used to learn “large languages” such as English or Spanish, our platform could also serve to preserve endangered languages.

So maybe one day, we will make our contribution that you can learn Busuu on busuu.com! :-)

Update: busuu.com collaborates with NGO in Cameroon

As you probably already know, in September 2009 we won the European Language Label for innovative projects in language learning.

The award was compensated with 1,500 EUR, which we donated to the Cameroon Association for the Protection and Education of the Child. The money was used to construct a classroom for underprivileged children.

Children school

The work has now been finished, and we are very proud that we could make our small contribution.

Christmas is the perfect time to help others, so if you are also interested in supporting the impressive work done by CAPEC, you can find more information here. You can collaborate in several ways like sponsoring a child for a school year, financing summer programs for the orphans, or even volunteering in their school as a teacher.

We already wish all of you, the team of CAPEC and the little children from their school a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Mission accomplished – Silbo Gomero is declared as cultural heritage by the UNESCO

GREAT NEWS – the UNESCO yesterday officially declared the nearly extinct whistled language Silbo Gomero from the Spanish Canary Islands as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity!

This means, that our campaign to rescue this nearly extinct whistled language has been successfully accomplished!

Remember, in September 2008, as part of our committment for having been selected as official project of the UNESCO during the international year of languages, we launched a campaign to rescue this wonderful but nearly extinct whistled language.

We produced a great video (which you can view below) and developed a special part on our website where you can access an interactive learning unit (you have to be logged in for that) for learning Silbo Gomero. We even created a fan page in facebook with currently more than 800 fans of Silbo Gomero.



This campaign has raised huge attention in the international press (see more information on our press page) and we even won a Silver Lion in the International Marketing Festival in Cannes for this activity.

Obviously, the decision of the UNESCO to include Silbo Gomero in the cultural heritage list is based on many criteria but we are convinced that we helped this charming language to raise its attention within the international public to a much more significant level.

We at busuu.com will continuously add new languages to our system (we have recently launched a free, interactive course in Italian) and are definitely commited to further support “smaller” languages around the world to prevent them from their extinction.

UNESCO International Mother Language Day

The tenth UNESCO International Mother Language Day will be celebrated on the 21st of February 2009. It provides us with an opportunity to recall the objective of this celebration which was the recognition of linguistic diversity and the importance of multilingual education.
“Only if multilingualism is fully accepted can all languages find their place in our globalized world”. Mr Koïchiro Matsuura. (Director General of UNESCO)

As busuu.com was one of the projects of the UNESCO 2008 International Year of Languages, we are taking a look back at our contribution to the celebration. Remember the busuu.com initiative to promote endangered languages such as Silbo Gomero? Well, it was a huge success. Over 15,000 of our users checked out our Silbo Gomero learning content and there are in total over 30,000 views of our Youtube videos in English, French, German and Spanish. So a big thank to all of you for your participation in the promotion and protection of this charming but endangered language.

The world’s nearly 7,000 languages will be celebrated on International Mother Language Day. Ensuring that these languages can continue in use alongside the major international languages of communication is a genuine challenge to countries and cultures worldwide.

So on that note, in my native language (which is Irish/Gaeilge), I will sign off today and remind you to celebrate your mother language on the 21st of February…Slán agus ná dermad do teanga dúchasach.