Music of Endangered and Minority Languages

November 20, 2019


I am sure many of you have heard the statistic that 90% of roughly the world’s

7,000 languages will become dormant by 2050. What will a loss of linguistic diversity mean for music diversity? It will have a devastating effect on humankind and it’s scary for me to imagine. Since the start of colonization and in the growing age of globalization, language minorities are constantly under threat and today language activists find many creative ways to revitalize or preserve these languages. 


In my playlist, I have two songs by a famous Welsh/Cornish alternative singer named Gwenno. While Gwenno is known for her Welsh songs and contribution to that language movement, she has recently released an album fully in Cornish called Le Kov, following her parents footsteps who are Cornish language activists. Gwenno’s alternative genre appeals more to the younger generation which inspires more interest in the language and eventually more speakers in her community. Cornish language activists are calling this “the Gwenno effect”. Combining modern phenomena with endangered languages is common with many other musicians around the world and I think that Gwenno does it very successfully.



 Another successful usage of music for language revitalization is with the Māori language and the song Poi E by Patea Māori Club which became a top hit in 1984 in New Zealand. The song has several Māori traditions embedded within it such as poi dancing. The music video also has Hip Hop cultural elements such as breakdancing that was popular during the era. The song successfully combines Maori traditions with modern phenomenon, helping it top the New Zealand charts. This song was later adapted in the recent 2010 film, Boy, which ends the movie with a thriller dance rendition of Poi E. Poi E got put back on the charts in 2010 and reached all the way to #3 making it the only New Zealand song to chart over three decades! This shows how the song has a continuous legacy and attachment to the Māori language and culture. 


 Since music, like language is also so embedded in culture, it is a powerful way to bring attention and empower a community that speaks an endangered and minority languages. However, the growing music industry constantly favors English or other global/colonial languages, so as active music listeners and enthusiasts we must educate ourselves on world music and movements for language revitalization to support these artists’s cause. With linguistic diversity comes cultural diversity which makes our world so beautiful and sacred.


To hear more listen to these playlists, one on YouTube by Audun Sundeen and another one on Spotify by Vivian Bauer.



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