Written by Dyami Millarson
Languages are intergenerationally transmitted man-made tools. When that intergenerational transmission is interrupted, language death becomes a very real danger. Nevertheless, if the interruption in the intergenerational transmission is solved before the last speakers have died, language death will be prevented. So how can it be solved? The transmission of a language actually means learning the language from the speakers, but although learning from the speakers is the traditional and usual way worldwide to learn languages, one can also learn a language in other ways, such as from a book. Therefore, it is practical to conclude that the successful transmission of a language ultimately comes down to just learning the language, whether you do it in the traditional way or not.
Operation X acknowledges that in order to save endangered languages right now, they must be learned. Hence the motto of Operation X: learning languages is saving languages or language-learning is language-saving. Our motto in Latin: disce linguās, servā linguās ē morte (learn languages, save languages from death). Since this is the Operation X motto, we foster dīligentiae mōs (the habit of diligence) among our people. We strongly believe we can make a difference in the world and turn the tide for endangered languages through our work; for, like Virgil said, labor omnia vincit (hard work conquers everything). Naturally, this entails a strong belief in charity for language communities. No one can dissuade us from our charitable work, because this is our calling in life; we are one with what we do for peoples and their languages. We will never give up on our work, and we derive satisfaction from the fact that elderly speakers consider us the “joy of their old age” (Dutch: vreugd van hun oude dag). Since we are accepted in the language communities and the elderly speakers of each community expect us to maintain their language faithfully, we fulfill our duty for every community willingly.
Of course, we know that language-learning is not enough just like transmission is not enough for the survival of languages, but intergenerational language-learning is required just like intergenerational transmission is required for the survival of languages. The recipe is not complete without intergenerationality; both language-learning and intergenerationality are required as ingredients. It is a simple recipe to understand, but despite the simplicity of the recipe, the effort that is required for making this recipe complete should not at all be underestimated. At the moment, we are still young and therefore the priority is to study the endangered languages diligently; this is the first ingredient of the recipe. However, when we reach the age when people would normally start thinking about having children, we will consider either passing our knowledge on to our own children and/or finding disciples younger than ourselves to continue our work; this is the final ingredient of the recipe, and the final ingredient can be postponed for a while (of course, not indefinitely but only until a point in time has been reached where it would be wise to start educating a new generation). This recipe simply has to be repeated over and over again, and Operation X exists for easing that process. While we are studying endangered languages, we are producing our own materials, which will also help others learn those languages. The more people learn these languages in our way, the more materials will be created, and the higher the production of materials, the easier it will be to propagate the languages.
We do not expect huge amounts of people to learn the languages we can write and speak fluently. What we care about is quality over quantity. It is better to have a small group of fluent speakers than a large group of half-speakers. We concentrate our efforts on producing just a few fluent speakers. We consider our approach very efficient and practical. Apart from a special focus on the production of fluent speakers, we have a special focus on the production of original materials; blogging in endangered languages is, therefore, an essential concept to our Foundation. A strict rule for the publication of endangered language articles on our blog is that they be original, and so authors actually have to make an effort to show their competence in each language. If original ideas are not being expressed anymore in a language, then it is already as if it is dead; originality is important for keeping languages alive, it gives them relevance. People often ask me, what makes endangered languages relevant? Have they not lost their relevance? As originality is naturally connected with human creativity, it may be said that human creativity is what makes languages relevant; relevance is what we can decide to create with our own efforts. Also, what creates relevance is our intimate connection with the communities and our knowledge of their traditions; a language is an entrance into a whole world, and without that specific language, you cannot experience that specific world. Respect for the elderly, which also translates to respect for the ancestors, is what motivates us greatly; we revere those who have lived before us by keeping their memory alive through the language. All in all, there are three essential virtues which contribute to the two-ingredient recipe: diligence, respect, and creativity.
Am going to follow you on Twitter, am a huge fan of the Welsh language and my hope also is to see these beautiful languages gain more speakers — and the respect they rightfully deserve.
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Thank you for following Operation X on Twitter, you are helping us a lot by following, liking and retweeting!
Gaining more speakers for Celtic and Frisian languages is doubtlessly a worthwhile goal, and hopefully our words on this blog and the example of our hard work can give people the necessary motivation to pick up these languages.
Respect is what these languages had in the past, but it was taken from them through stigmatisation. So what we are doing is restoring respect, and we are not introducing something novel; we are merely seeking the return of what was once normal.