Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Citizenship

How one man is using hip-hop to revive his endangered, indigenous language

There are up to 7,000 spoken (human) languages in the world. 90% of these languages are spoken by fewer than 100,000 people and many more are spoken by far less.

As globalization flattens cultural distances, dominant languages like English and Mandarin are blotting out smaller, community-based languages. Put another way, many speakers of rare languages feel as if the modern world makes no room for them--they can't conduct cross-border business in this language, for example--and are therefore compelled to learn English, Spanish, Mandarin, etc. to stay relevant.

Cultural Survival writes, "to avoid humiliation and to give their children better chances in life, indigenous and minority parents often decide to speak a dominant or official language with their children."

Over time, a language can be shed altogether. And sometimes, languages are maliciously stamped out by larger groups bent on total assimiliation.

This is one of the tragedies of globalization: the loss of unique perspectives, the erasure of diversity. Every language translates reality in a different way, reveals quirks and flavors that charm and enrich us and that can never be fully recaptured by another language. 

Rapper Nils Rune Utsi, known as SlinCraze, knows this and performs in a Sámi language spoken by about 20,000 indigenous people in Northern Scandinavia. 

It's a language that isn't accomodated in the broader culture, so not everyone can understand his verses. But that's not SlinCraze's main goal. By performing this way, he's imbuing the language with cultural significance. He's reminding young people that the language is beautiful and worth protecting. 

He wants "to make people proud to be native" and if he's successful, then he could unleash a wave of young people who renew interest in the language after realizing that it's a link back to their unique heritage.

And for everyone who doesn't speak Sámi, he's reminding us that language doesn't have to be understood to be appreciated. Just hearing the sounds resonate with another is an entertaining experience.