Searching for the last speaker of an ancient language
Published: Monday, January 28, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 01:01
As a writer, I find this recent piece of news, originally run on the Smithsonian Magazine's "Ideas and Innovation" really interesting, but it also gave me a bit of cause for concern as I read the headline and the following paragraphs.
The headline jumps out at me: how to save a dying language. It goes on to explain that linguist Geoffrey Khan of the University of Cambridge was in Chicago with a special mission -- to search out the last of the native speakers of Aramaic, a 3,000-year-old language that Jesus spoke, before they die and their knowledge of the ancient language is gone.
The Windy City is a heady place for one of the world’s foremost scholars of modern Aramaic, a man bent on documenting all of its dialects before the language—once the tongue of empires—follows its last speakers to the grave.
I started thinking about my interest in archaeology, religion and words and how they all fit together.
Latin seems to be long gone, along with a host of other languages and consequently, their cultures and customs and, some of their ideas. But is the thought of this cultural loss enough to make historians give up all together and wait for the next ancient treasure to rise to the surface? Or should we be thinking that a treasure far greater than all the spoils Indiana Jones could dream of is waiting to come to life, if we'd just search a little harder.