Coming up for screening tomorrow evening at Ubud’s Paradiso (7:30pm) this is a film that does matter. It explores three very different societies with three very different world visions – as any one who speaks more than one language knows, languages reflect the psychology of their cultures.

“Something like half the languages of the world are so seriously endangered that they’re going to die out in the course of the present century,” says linguist David Crystal in Language Matters. “That means one language dying out somewhere or other every two weeks on average.”

The film, Language Matters with Bob Holman, asks “What do we lose when a language dies?  What does it take to save a language?

With thanks to Liat Solomon, the film, will be shown for free at Café Paradiso on Tuesday at 7:30.  It explores these questions in three societies,  a remote island off the coast of Australia where 400 Aboriginal people speak 10 different languages, all at risk;  Wales, where Welsh, once in danger, is today making a comeback; and in Hawaii, where Hawaiians are fighting to save their native tongue.

Wales

What we learn is that language death means the disappearance of a wealth of knowledge, the disappearance of cultural creativity, and the loss of a particular lens on life.  Says linguist David Crystal “Each language is a vision of the world. Each language says something different about what it means to be human compared with any other language. And every language that is lost is a loss of a fragment of that vision.”

What has all this to do with Bali?  The Balinese government estimates that only about a quarter of Balinese can still speak Balinese (with more or less appropriate levels).  The script is already endangered.   A collaboration of Bali’s Udayana University, Badan Bahasa (the Balinese governor’s Language Board), BASAbali, a nonprofit organization, and hundreds of volunteers from around the world are to trying to turn things around while there’s still a good base of speakers.

The collaboration recently launched a “living” wiki dictionary that evolves as the language does and that “lives” (check out http://dictionary.basabali.org/Jegeg andhttp://dictionary.basabali.org/Manyama).

Hawaii

 Inspired by the film, the collaboration started an online poetry contest on Facebook.  Each month features a different theme: https://www.facebook.com/pages/BASAbali-WIKI/768627826506638).    Winners are chosen by a team of linguists and by popular vote.

 Why poems?  “Words” says the film’s Bob Holman, “are central to lived experience:  Words are how we connect, and how we differ. Words are how we learn from and about each other, how we gossip, make poems, jokes and express our deepest wisdom – all in words.”

 Winners of the monthly contest will be asked to attend a live poetry slam which will be held annually at the ARMA Museum on the eve of Saraswati Day. Along with Agung Rai, singer-songwriter Ayu Laksmi is scheduled to appear at the event.

 The film is free, but donations are requested to help underwrite the cost of the live poetry slam.

by Alissa Stern, US Director, www.BASAbali.org   photos courtesy “Language Matters”