您現在的位置︰ 紐約時報中英文網 >> 紐約時報中英文版 >> 文化 >> 正文


更新時間:2019/4/24 21:36:07 來源:紐約時報中文網 作者:佚名

The man bringing dead languages back to life

Like many people in Australia, Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann is a regular contributor to the fund to save the Tasmanian Devil. The Tasmanian Devil, which Zuckermann remarks is an “ugly animal”, is listed as endangered, along with much of the unique and beautiful wildlife that makes Australia such a distinctive and enigmatic place. Yet animal life is not the only thing that has struggled to keep up with the pressures of modern life down under.

和許多澳大利亞人一樣,扎克曼(Ghil'ad Zuckermann)教授也是“拯救袋獾基金會”的定期捐款人。他說,外貌丑陋的袋獾(Tasmanian Devil)和許多美麗而獨特的野生動物一樣被列為了瀕危動物。而正是這些野生動物使澳大利亞成為一個如此獨特且神秘的地方。然而,受到現代生活壓迫的絕不僅僅是動物。

While Australia may be famous the world over for its biodiversity, for a linguistics professor like Zuckermann, the country has another allure: its languages. Before European colonisers arrived, Australia used to be one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the world, boasting around 250 different languages. Due in part to Australia’s long geographic isolation, many of these had developed unique grammatical structures and concepts that were unknown to languages in other parts of the world.


One of these is a language called Guugu Yimithirr, spoken in the north of Queensland, which gave the world the word "kangaroo". It’s also made remarkable by the fact that unlike languages like English, it does not make use of ego-centric positioning systems such as "left" and "right". Instead, all speakers of Guugu Yimithirr have an in-built compass in their brain that allows them to always know where is north, south, east and west. Therefore, they have no need to talk about the "left tap" or the "right tap". Instead, they just refer to the "north tap" or the "south tap".

其中一種語言叫做Guugu Yimithirr,在昆士蘭州北部地區使用,袋鼠的英文“kangaroo”正來自于這種語言。與英語等語言不同的是,這種語言沒有使用“左”和“右”等以自我為中心的定位系統,這一點十分獨特。所有說這種語言的人腦中都似乎有一個內置的指南針,能隨時分清東南西北。因此,他們只會說“南北”,不會說“左右”。

But according to the 2016 Australian census, Guugu Yimithirr has just 775 native speakers alive today, with numbers on the decline. Of the 250 languages spoken before settlers arrived, today all but 13 of them are considered to be "highly endangered" a fact that is often overlooked.

2016年澳大利亞人口普查數據顯示,目前以Guugu Yimithirr為母語的人僅剩775名,且還在不斷減少。在殖民者涌入之前,人們使用的語言數量多達250種。如今,只剩13種還沒被列為“高度瀕危”語言。這一事實總是被人們忽略。

“I believe that most people care more about animals that are endangered than about languages that are endangered,” Zuckerman explains. “The reason is that animals are tangible. You can touch a koala, even though in the wild you’d be crazy to do so because she can kill you with her claws. But koalas are cute. Languages, however, are not tangible. They are abstract. People understand the importance of biodiversity far more than that of linguistic diversity.”


Yet for Zuckermann, preserving linguistic diversity is hugely important. For indigenous communities in Australia and worldwide that are still grappling with the legacy of colonisation, being able to speak their ancestral language is about empowerment and reclaiming their identity. It may even carry significant consequences for their mental health.


Ghil’ad Zuckermann first visited Australia in 2004. He felt so overcome with love for what he describes as the most beautiful country he’d ever seen that he decided he wanted to do something to help it. As a linguistics professor from Israel, the son of a Holocaust survivor, and a specialist at the time in the analysis of the Hebrew language revival, he quickly identified an area where he could have an impact: the revival and empowerment of Aboriginal languages and cultures.


Zuckermann first established the trans-disciplinary field of enquiry called “Revivalistics”, which focuses on supporting the survival, revival and reinvigoration of endangered and extinct languages all around the world. These range from languages such as Hebrew, Welsh, Cornish and Irish, to Hawaiian, North American languages like Wampanoag and Myaamia, and many others.


As an Israeli, Zuckermann grew up a native speaker of Modern Hebrew, arguably the world’s most successful example of language revival to date. Hebrew was extinct for almost 2,000 years until Zionist language revivalists began to bring it back into use in the late 19th Century. They achieved this by adapting the ancient language of the Torah so that it could be suitable for modern life. It would eventually become the mother tongue of all Jews in the new state of Israel, founded in 1948.


Zuckermann’s expertise and personal experience with Modern Hebrew greatly informs his work in Australia today, precisely because he takes a critical view of it. He argues that the language spoken natively by millions of people in Israel today and that they call Hebrew is not, and could not be, the same language of the Bible.


“The Jews did not manage to revive the language of Isaiah. It is simply impossible to revive a language as it used to be.” Instead, Zuckermann explains that Modern Hebrew, which he controversially refers to as "Israeli", is a hybrid language, drawing on the influences that Jewish migrants brought with them to Israel from their native languages, such as Yiddish, Polish, Russian and Arabic. Over the course of generations, these blended together to shape the language in its modern form. According to Zuckermann, this should not be seen as a problem. These changes are a natural and necessary part of the process of reviving a language.


“I take into consideration the speaker more than the language. A speaker of Yiddish could not get rid of their Yiddish Weltanschauung or mindset, even though they hated Yiddish and wanted to speak Hebrew. But the moment a person understands the importance of the native speaker at the expense of linguistic purism and authenticity of the language, that person can be a good revivalist.”


Sleeping beauties


Much of Zuckermann’s work in Australia has centred on Barngarla, a dead language Zuckermann prefers the term “sleeping beauty” that was spoken in the rural areas of southern Australia between the cities of Port Augusta, Port Lincoln and Whyalla. The last native speaker, Moonie Davis, passed away in 1960. Yet when Zuckerman reached out to the Barngarla community and proposed that he help revive their language and their culture, he was amazed by their response. “We have been waiting for you for 50 years,” they told him.

扎克曼在澳大利亞的研究工作主要集中在巴恩加拉語(Barngarla)上,這是一種已經死亡的語言(扎克曼更喜歡稱之為“睡美人”),主要使用地區是澳大利亞南部奧古斯塔港(Port Augusta)、林肯港(Port Lincoln)和惠亞拉港(Whyalla)之間的農村地區。最後一位巴恩加拉語的母語使用者戴維斯(Moonie Davis)于1960年去世。當扎克曼向巴恩加拉社區伸出援手,提出要幫助他們恢復語言和文化時,村民反應令他驚訝,“這一刻我們已經等了50年了。”

Zuckermann’s starting point was a dictionary written by a Lutheran missionary called Robert Sch rmann in 1844. In 2011, Zuckermann began making regular trips to Barngarla country to run language revival workshops. Together, and with Zuckermann’s help and guidance, the Barngarla community built upon the knowledge stored within Sch rmann’s 1844 dictionary. They pooled together what they could remember of words they’d heard their parents and grandparents saying.

一本由路德教會傳教士舒爾曼(Robert Schurmann)于1844年編寫的詞典成為了扎克曼研究的起點。2011年,扎克曼開始定期前往巴恩加拉鄉村,舉辦語言復興研討會。在扎克曼的幫助和指導下,巴恩加拉吸收了這本字典中所儲存的知識,並收集了能記住巴恩加拉語的老一輩說過的話。

They also held discussions about how to devise appropriate words that could apply to modern life. Should Barngarla follow English’s precedent and refer to the computer using the metaphor of ‘computing’ something? Or should they instead look to Mandarin Chinese, whose word 電腦 (di nn o) literally means “electric brain”?


The result is modern-day Barngarla, a language that has been revived in a form that is as close as possible to the Barngarla that was spoken before its last native speaker died out. Yet inevitably, as with the case of Modern Hebrew, it will never fully be the same. Too much time has passed, and there has been too much influence from the colonial language, in this case English, for today’s Barngarla to be a carbon copy. It too is a hybrid language, yet one that the Barngarla community can feel proud to speak once more. For Zuckermann, there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, quite the opposite: “Hybridity results in new linguistic diversity.”




“Linguicide” the killing of language sits amongst the 10 forms of genocide that are recognised by the United Nations. The Barngarla language did not die out in 1960 solely due to natural causes. Like many Aboriginal languages, in the early to mid-20th Century it was actively destroyed and subjected to the cruel and imperialistic policies of the Australian government at the time, who removed children from their mothers and sent them to boarding schools thousands of miles away. There, they learned English and quickly forgot their mother tongue. If they ever returned to their ancestral homelands, they found themselves unable to communicate with their own families, as they no longer shared a common language.


Lavinia Richards is one of the "stolen generation". She remembers the trauma of being forcibly separated from her mother by the Australian authorities and forced to speak a foreign language English. When the Barngarla community released a CD of stories and songs of Barngarla people affected by the "stolen generation" in June 2018, she included on it a poem that she wrote about a flower she saw that reminded her of her mother, a reminder of a life that was denied to her because she was born speaking the wrong language.

理查茲(Lavinia Richards)就屬于“被偷走的一代”。她還記得,當時殖民地政府強行將她與母親分離,逼迫她說另一門語言——英語。當2018年6月,巴恩加拉社區發布了一版光盤,里面的故事和歌曲講述了“被偷走的一代”的故事。她寫了一首關于花的詩。這朵花讓她想起了母親,想起了被剝奪的生活,只因她生來就說著“錯誤”的語言。

For Zuckermann, there are three reasons why people should support language revival. The first is the simple ethical matter of righting the wrongs of colonial linguistic supremacy. Zuckermann states that the very fact that the Australian government at the time actively tried to destroy Australia’s unique linguistic diversity, driven perhaps by the racist notions of politicians such as Anthony Forster, who in 1843 declared “the natives would be sooner civilised if their language was extinct”, is convincing enough for him.

對于扎克曼來說,人們應該支持語言復興有以下三個原因。首先是糾正殖民語言霸權犯下的錯誤,這是一個簡單的倫理問題。扎克曼指出,事實上,當時的殖民地政府試圖破壞當地獨特的語言多樣性,幕後黑手可能是福斯特(Anthony Forster)等政治家信奉的種族歧視觀念。福斯特在1843年曾說過“如果原住民的語言滅絕了,馴化他們就更容易了”。

However, Zuckermann’s second reason is utilitarian. Language revival is about far more than just communication. He argues that it is about “culture, cultural autonomy, intellectual sovereignty, spirituality, well-being, and the soul”.


“When you lose your language, you lose your soul. When you revive your language, you don’t only revive its sounds, its words, its morphemes and its phonemes. You revive the whole shebang.”


Over his many years of working in language revival, Zuckermann has become increasingly convinced of a clear trend. He believes that amongst Aboriginal communities that have reclaimed their ancestral language, he has observed greatly improved physical and mental health. He sees a sharp drop in incidences of suicide, alcoholism, addiction and diabetes problems that unfortunately are rife amongst Aboriginal people across Australia.


These are only anecdotal observations but in 2017, he began a five-year study to see whether he could find hard evidence to support the theory. Should he be proven right, he believes that this should give the Australian government enough cause to support language revival programmes across the country through healthcare funding from tax payers’ money.


A preliminary investigation in 2007 from the University of Oxford, University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria in Canada seems to support Zuckermann’s claims. By analysing Canadian census data, the researchers discovered that youth suicide rates “effectively dropped to zero in the few communities where at least half of the members reported a conversational level of their ‘Native’ language”.

2007年,來自牛津大學、英屬哥倫比亞大學和加拿大維多利亞大學的哈里特(Darcy Hallett)、錢德勒(Michael J Chandler)和拉隆德(Christopher E Lalonde)進行了初步調查,所得結果似乎印證了扎克曼的猜想。通過分析加拿大的人口普查數據,他們發現青少年自殺率“在少數幾個社區有效地降至零。這些社區中至少一半人的‘母語’達到了會話水平”。

“I really believe that billions of dollars in Australia have been wasted on stupid, medically approved programmes. I can prove qualitatively and quantitatively that language revival results in better health," Zuckermann says.


“You kill the language of an Aboriginal community, you cause depression. You cause depression, you cause people to lose their will to take care of their body.”


The third and final reason Zuckermann cites for supporting language revival is aesthetic. In other words, the co-existence of so many distinct and unique languages is beautiful. Australia’s multilingualism is like the human reflection of the biodiversity for which the country is so well known. Yet Zuckermann is aware that of all of his arguments, this is the one that may meet its toughest reception amongst the wider public.


For Candace Kaleimamoowahinekapu Galla, a native Hawaiian and associate professor at the University of British Columbia, speaking her ancestral language and promoting its use amongst her fellow Hawaiians is about something simple, yet fundamental. It’s about pride. “But not in an egotistical way,” she is quick to clarify. “It’s a humbling pride. It’s about accessing documents, newspapers or stories from the 1800s and understanding them on a different level to just reading them through an English translation.”

加拿大不列顛哥倫比亞大學(University of British Columbia)副教授、土生土長的夏威夷人加拉(Candace Kaleimamoowahinekapu Galla)認為,和夏威夷同胞中講祖先曾講過語言,並推廣使用這種語言,是一件簡單且基本的事情。我們為此感到自豪。“但並不是以自我為中心,”她澄清道,“這是一種令人謙卑的驕傲。我們需要獲取19世紀的文件、報紙或故事,並從不同的層面理解它們,而不是只通過英語翻譯。”

Galla describes the Hawaiian language as the foundation of everything distinguishing about Hawaiian culture. She believes that even the famous Hula dance, which has risen to the status of something of a global phenomenon, is impossible to truly perform without understanding Hawaiian, the lyric and the motion behind the lyric. Without an appreciation for those things, you are “just learning choreography”, according to Galla. “You can’t dance Hula without Hawaiian. You can dance, but it’s not Hula.”


Looking to the future, Zuckermann has grand plans. After his decisions to found Revivalistics and to work with the Barngarla community, he says that his next step is to spread the message far and wide.


Since running his first online open-access course on language revival in 2014, he has so far had more than 11,000 participants in 188 countries, including in Afghanistan, Syria, and countries where genocide and linguicide are common.


“I want to reach people who are not academic. People who are language activists, but who do not go to university and do not have money to do things. People who would like to revive their language.”