Reconstructing Latin America’s African past

For this month’s blog post I read the below article and watched the attached Ted talk on the Palenque people of Colombia. The Palenque people have lived in isolation for roughly 400 years, with no education and resources, and no official history. This group of people had no recolection or knowledge of their history or their origins. All they knew is that they were freedom fighters, the first officially free Black people anywhere in the Americas. They speak their own language, Palenquero, a Spanish-based creole language. Through studying their language and ultimately their DNA, professor Armin Schewegler managed to reconstruct their history and origins. 

It was fascinating to learn about their ritual language, for example when someone dies they chant a chant from Africa, and were moved by the words but they did not understand the meaning of what they sung. Once translated from its original language, Kikongo, one of these chants included a major clue to where this community came from: “From the Kongo people I am”.

As the research progressed through the years, more similarities were found between the Palenquero and Kikongo. For example, the word for cattle and snake is the same in both languages, and it became clear that there was a strong connection between these languages, however it was just a hypothesis. At this time population genetics had read linguists’s articles and wanted to team up to collect data in Palenque and in Africa, and obtained DNA from 42 population groups, and were able to zero in the Mayombe region of KiKongo, a very small community. The DNA data confirmed precisely what they hypothesized: the Palenque people came from Congo.

This is such a significant and emotional finding because this stigmatized group with no history now know their roots and have regained their pride, 400 years later.

Pop culture’s effect on language studying

This article suggests that there is a correlation between the popular Korean Netflix series, Squid Games, and the sudden increase in Korean language courses taken. Duolingo, an online language course service, reports that there was roughly a 40% increase of Korean courses in the U.S. and a spike of 76% by British users. “Language and culture are intrinsically connected and what happens in pop culture and media often influences trends in language and language learning,” said Duolingo spokesperson Sam Dalsimer. This makes me question pop culture’s effect on language learning, perhaps if more popular shows were played in different languages then those languages will also spike. However, I do believe that the spike is momentary, being that users will be interested in learning the new language for only a few weeks while the novelty of the language and the show wears off, unless something new in the media comes around to once again reinforce that desire to learn. I think it will be interesting to get some data to compare whether the effects of pop culture on language learning are momentary or significant.