Today we’re celebrating the International Mother Language Day.
Enjoy this poem translated from Evenki – a language that is still being used by Evenks in Russia and China – as a way of celebrating this wonderful awareness day.
If I forget my native speech,
And the songs that my people sing
What use are my eyes and ears?
What use is my mouth?
If I forget the smell of the earth
And do not serve it well
What use are my hands?
Why am I living in the world?
How can I believe the foolish idea
That my language is weak and poor
If my mother’s last words
Were in Evenki?
Author: Alitet Nemtushkin, Evenki poet
Evenki is part of the Manchu-Tungus sub-group of Altaic languages and has about 20,000 speakers. It is spoken in the Evenki Autonomous District, or Evenkia (Эведы Автомоды Округ) in Russia, and also in parts of China and Mongolia. Approximately 45% of the Evenki people consider Evenki their mother tongue. Most of the speakers are elderly and the younger generation lack a thorough knowledge of the language. This is because until 1980 the Russian government tried to suppress the Evenki language, but since then Evenki has been taught in schools.