For my Green Book posts I want to write about the creative ways that communities are using endangered languages and restoring vitality to ancestral tongues. Sometimes these can be very new and innovative approaches to language use. Other times they can be very old indeed.
Eisteddfod is a Welsh word that refers to a festival of literature, music, and performance. Scholars date the first Eisteddfod to 1176. Interest in the festivals have ebbed and flowed over the centuries (as an American, dates like 1176 still boggle my mind…), but in 1860 a revival of interest in Welsh language and culture created a designated National Eisteddfod. Today it is the largest festival of competitive music and poetry in Europe; winning at this annual event is a source of fierce pride and the festival regularly welcomes 150,000 visitors. As the English language continues to dominate on the British Isles, the many eisteddfodau celebrate this ancient Celtic tongue and its rich literary and artistic heritage.
I was reminded of this tradition when I recently discovered the Kamehameha Schools Song Contest in Hawaii. This is a newer tradition…and by new I mean it’s “only” 92 years old this year. It’s a pretty big deal in Hawaii – so much so that a documentary about it was released earlier this year:
One of the biggest struggles of communities is the fight to get younger generations energized about the declining languages. I love that both the National Eisteddfod and the Kamehameha Schools Song Contest demonstrate the vitality of these smaller languages in ways that involve and excite all ages.