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Varsity on mission to save language spoken by 3 people

Last updated: 21 April, 2011
London, April 21, PTI: 23:10 IST

An Oxford University team has discovered a language spoken by only three people and is now in a race against time to document the language for posterity.

The urgency of the project has been underlined by the recent flooding on the island where the language is spoken.

Researchers from Oxford University’s Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics uncovered the language called ‘Dusner’, spoken by three people in a village of the same name on the island of Papua in Indonesia.

Dr Suriel Mofu from the university left for Indonesia in October to record and document the language, but days after he left, flooding hit Indonesia’s easternmost Papua province.

The Oxford team could not determine whether or not the Dusner speakers – aged 45, 60 and 70-plus - had survived.

Now Dr Mofu has made contact with the Dusner speakers.

Professor Mary Dalrymple of Oxford University’s Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics, the project’s leader, said, “The flood in Indonesia has been a real tragedy for the inhabitants of this wonderful island and it’s been a nervous few months waiting to hear whether or not our speakers survived”.

He added, “Our project to record and document this language of Dusner has an urgency about it, because one of its speakers died last year and the only existing speakers are a man in his 70s, a 60-year old woman and a 45-year old woman”.

Over the next three months, the team will record Dusner’s three remaining speakers talking about their lives, telling stories and jokes and performing traditional ceremonies before making these available online for the general public.

Dr Mofu said, “I stumbled across Dusner by accident, from the comfort of an office in Oxford, when I recognised that despite growing up on Papua I had never heard this very distinctive language before”.

It is estimated that half of the 6,000 recorded languages spoken in the world will vanish in the next 50 years, a university release said.

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