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Teen Texts May Be Preserving Endangered Languages

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, June 29 2011

McClatchy Newspapers' Tim Johnson writes that teenagers using regional languages in text messages may keep them from "forsaking their native tongues for dominant languages:"

Linguist Samuel Herrera said he was elated to find teenagers zapping each other with text messages in Huave, an endangered language spoken only by about 15,000 people in the Tehuantepec region of Mexico, along the Pacific.

"This really strengthens the use of the language," said Herrera, who runs the linguistics laboratory at the Institute of Anthropological Research in the Mexican capital.

Dr. Gregory D.S. Anderson, the director of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages in Salem, Ore., agrees. Somewhere between the ages of 6 and 20 or 25, he said, "people make a definitive decision whether to break with the language."

"If the language isn't being used by their peer group, then they reject it categorically," he said.

Technology as simple as text messaging can draw them back.

"That's exactly the hook for young people. They live in text, and they are the key stakeholders and the ones who may or may not pass it down to their own children," Anderson said.