Yesterday was one of these moments that make you want to get up and sing that “Boom-de-yada” song from TV. A list of 7 wonders of nature was announced – this time, the 7 wonderful places were chosen in an online vote. A brief look at the list is enough to inspire wanderlust in everyone. Before you go, though, click through to the rest of this post – and find out some awesome facts about the languages spoken in each of the winning regions!
First, take a look at how big the area is: Amazon is, by volume, the world’s largest river, and the area around it accounts for around 50% of world’s rainforests.
Now, isn’t it a bit bizarre that there are only two languages dominant around the area?
A closer look – and some historical perspective – reveals some more interesting findings. Whilst Portuguese and Spanish are clearly the most widely spoken languages, Amazon Basin does have a lot of other, indigenous languages. Sometimes these are only spoken by a handful of people in an isolated tribe – and as such, they are in danger of extinction.
A wonder-ful idea: go there and adopt a language. Don’t settle for Portuguese or Spanish. Learn a bit of a language that will soon be dead – and see how that makes you feel.
3. Halong Bay – A Tale of Speaking and Writing
Vietnamese is a tonal, monosyllabic language. In simpler terms: it is similar in its nature to Chinese. In fact, at one point in history Chinese and Vietnamese used a similar alphabet.
The interesting thing about modern Vietnamese is the alphabet itself. What you can probably imagine is mainly traditional writing (both native Vietnamese and Sino-Vietnamese, i.e. of Chinese origin) – but besides that, there are letters which look much more familiar.
The man responsible for transcribing Vietnamese into a romanized alphabet was a French missionary, Alexandre de Rhodes. As a result, more people had access to writing the language they mainly used to speak, and literacy rates increased.
A wonder-ful idea: Go to Halong Bay and see how many languages you can spot. Vietnamese are a truly cosmopolitan people, and you’d be surprised at how many languages they’ve come in contact with!
4. Jeju island – A Tale Of an Isolated Language
Theoretically, Jeju is a South Korean autonomous province, so it would be natural to expect Korean spoken on this little, charming island. Along with Korean, you would probably expect some traditional Korean customs. Wrong.
Jeju, due to its isolation, has developed separately from the mainland. As a result, the island’s language is merely Korean’s distant relative, and its culture is vastly different, too. Two obvious examples include the “stone grandfather” figures (pictured) and a matriarchal society – with the men at sea so often, it’s the girls who run this little world!
A wonder-ful idea: Visit Jeju for its beautiful landscapes and waterfalls. As for the language, learn it by all means – but remain humble: even for a native speaker of Korean, the Jeju dialect must sound weird and foreign.
5. Komodo – A Tale of Countless Tongues
Komodo, in Indonesia, is probably best known for its exotic and scary inhabitant – the Komodo dragon. The quirky fauna and the beautiful sights should be enough to make you want to visit.
If you’re still not convinced, here’s a linguistic factoid which might interest you:
Indonesia has about 13 thousand islands.
And about 7 hundred languages.
A wonder-ful idea: Go to Indonesia. Komodo, or any other island. Visit a few of them. Talk to the people, watch them. Then think about it: if a country with 700 languages can stay together, maybe it gives your place some hope as well.
6. Puerto Princesa Underground River – A Tale of Linguistic Imperialism
Philippines, where you can find the beautiful Underground River of Puerto Princesa, is a country with over 120 languages. This, again, could be an exercise in humility for every language learner. But I chose to look at something else instead.
In 1901, 500 teachers embarked on a ship from the U.S. to the Philippines. Their mission was ambitious: they had to start a new public school system in the country. They were called “the Thomasites,” because of the name of the ship they arrived on.
Several years later, Philippines added English as one of their official languages.
A wonder-ful idea: Explore the Underground River. And whenever you happen to be able to communicate in English, think about it the Thomasites.
7. Table Mountain, South Africa – A Tale of False Impressions
Cape Town, lying at the feet of Table Mountain, is the second most populous city in the Republic of South Africa. And one of South Africa’s official languages is English. So it would be safe to assume that you can communicate in English without much hassle, right?
Not really, actually. Although English is one of RSA’s official languages, it is only the fifth most-spoken language there. And in Cape town itself, you’re much more likely to encounter Afrikaans or Xhosa. English is there to serve a formal and official role – but the language of everyday life is likely to be different.
A wonder-ful idea: Visit the Table Mountain, and explore Cape Town. But don’t rely on your first language to get on by – learn what the people around you are speaking!
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