One of my former professional pursuits involved field research in the western highlands of Guatemala, investigating some of the causes of the decline of a Mayan language. I had to learn a bit of the language myself, and made recordings of conversations to document the language. I just uploaded a 90 second clip of one of those conversations to the music/podcast frame on the left side of my page in Classroom 2.0.

In my blog Tryangulation, I've had a few posts recently about the fascinating Turkish language, and that got me thinking again about how diverse the world's languages really are. Both Turkish and the Western Mam of Guatemala are incredibly different from English and from each other. To think of such a comparison between only three of the world's perhaps 6000 languages leaves me amazed at the richness of human thought and creativity across continents and millennia: so many meanings that we have in common, yet so many different ways to reflect on them and express them.

Now think of the 30 kids sitting in your class, and imagine how each one carries that capacity for creativity within them!

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Comment by Ginger Lewman on July 14, 2007 at 5:42am
What a great thought to keep in mind!

I listened to your 90 seconds of a vanishing language. How closely is this to what the academics think traditional Mayan sounds? It's a wonderful sound to Lakota Sioux mixed with Mexican Spanish (not that I know ANYTHING about either of those; only what my ear hears as similar sounds).

I wonder: How does growing up in a particular culture initially allow the development of individual creativity for young children, then limit us as we grow? It's as if we're allowed "structured" creativity, but no more than what society will accept.

I sometimes think as a secondary level teacher, that I have to re-teach students how to be creative. Or at least how to safely get back in touch with their creative intentions.

Thanks for the post!
Comment by Tom Hemingway on July 15, 2007 at 7:42am
Hi Ginger, thanks for visiting.

There are several branches of the Maya language family, and among them there are nearly 40 different languages. That's a little like comparing the Romance and Germanic languages of Europe, which all belong to the Indo-European family. Those branches have been distinct since long before the classical Mayan cultural period that is famous for its cities, mathematics, and beautiful hieroglyphic writing.

There is Spanish scattered through the conversation, and actually this language is so nearly displaced by Spanish that no one under the age of 40 now speaks it.

Interesting comments about creativity. That's something else I've touched on a fair amount in my Tryangulation blog (here's a sample).

I also highly recommend the TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, who is author of the book Out of our minds: learning to be creative.


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