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Ter Sami

August 27, 2010

My 8-year-old loves studying the Guinness Book of Records. He loves asking me questions beginning with ‘Dad, what’s the most…’ or ‘Dad, what’s the least…’. So he asked me ‘Dad, what’s the most widespread language in the world? ‘Mandarin Chinese’, I answered instantly. ‘And what’s the least widespread language?’ I went to wikipedia. ‘Ter Sami’ I said as I reached the bottom of a long list of world languages. A language spoken by 2 (two) people. Two people living on the Kola Peninsula.

Now a language spoken by two people is something very sad and something very romantic at the same time. I am imagining an ancient couple sitting in their ancient house in the middle of the polar night with an oil lamp burning on the table between them, the wind wailing outside, speaking in a language not familiar to anyone on the whole earth but themselves. They sing Ter Sami songs to each other, tell each other Ter Sami folklore they know so well but love to hear again and again, tell an old Ter Sami joke they’ve heard from each other a thousand times, but it still makes them laugh because who else in the world will laugh to a Ter Sami joke? No one would even joke about Ter Sami because no one knows they exist. And then one day, watching the last sunset of a polar autumn they’ll die together and there’ll be no Ter Sami in the world. It will be extinct. Like the dodo bird.

Sounds like something exotic and remote, but the same story might be told of the last two speakers of Swedish someday if globalization goes too far…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2010 11:35 pm

    it’s nice reading you, Alex!

  2. Laura permalink
    August 8, 2011 5:47 pm

    Someone should save it

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