Voices, with K. David Harrison

National Geographic Fellow and linguist K. David Harrison explores the world’s endangered languages. In this video, learn how teaching English contributes to the survival of endangered languages.



My name is David Harrison, I'm a Linguist and a National Geographic Fellow. I explore the world's endangered languages. What I've learned in the past 20 years of traveling all over the world and meeting speakers of some of the most endangered languages, is that there is an immense knowledge base out there. Things that we don't know we don't know, about the planet, about the environment is out there waiting to be noticed by us. In the Enduring Voices Project, we created a map of the world's language hotspots. The areas around the globe that have the highest diversity of languages and the most endangered languages. And then we set out to visit as many of the hotspots as we could and we were able to record some of the wisdom that these cultures chose to share with us. By looking at their languages, we can see what they know about plants, fish, marine ecosystems and we can benefit from the knowledge they have about nature and conversation. People are multilingual and so someone who speaks an endangered language will also be a speaker of French or English. So English language can be a channel of communication. It's a gateway language. So by teaching and learning English we are actually contributing to the survival of small cultures and our ability to appreciate and learn from them. It is truly a gift to be bilingual and to learn other languages, and you don't have to give up any one language in order to learn another one. Your brain is capable of containing many realities, many languages. And each language that you add, adds a different dimension to your personality, it enriches you incredibly. So the main takeaway lesson is that if you approach cultures with humility and respect, realizing that you can learn from them, you will learn. And so for me National Geographic is not about us going out to discover or explore them, but it's about creating a reciprocal relationship where we're learning from these other cultures we encounter. They are our teachers and we have so much to learn from each other.

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