5 Songs from the Eurovision for Endangered Languages, Liet International

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English has taken over pop music to the point where many bands from other countries will write their songs in English in order to appeal to a wider audience. The Eurovision Song Contest provides one place where other languages can get a chance at a bigger stage, but there are smaller, more fragile languages that are threatened not only by English, but also by the robust European national languages that surround them. For them, there is the Liet International song contest, established in 2002. This is a Eurovision for minority languages, which include Frisian, Manx, Vepsian, and Romansh. This year's Liet International was held December 1 in the Spanish city of Gijón (otherwise known as Xixón in Asturian, the language of the region). Here are a few of the standouts from the competition.

1. "Ar Gouloù Bev"

The winner was Lleuwen Steffan, a singer who was born and raised in Wales and has recorded well-received albums in Welsh. Her winning song was sung in Breton, which she learned after moving to the northern French region of Brittany. Breton, like Welsh, is a Celtic language. It has about 200,000 speakers and is classified by UNESCO as "severely endangered." Above is Steffan singing her lovely, soulful entry "Ar Gouloù Bev" ("The Living Light").

2. "Tau Tynyd"

According to this article, Ivan Belosludtsev & 4CP had never been outside of Udmurtia, a Russian republic just west of the Ural Mountains, before traveling 5200km and crossing three time zones to perform their song "Tau Tynyd" ("Thank You") at the competition. It is in Udmurt, a language from the Permic branch of the Uralic family with about half a million speakers. This song might be the most adorable thing ever, and it also includes what looks like Russian sign language!

3. "Oainnat go?"

Seventeen-year-old Inger Karoline Gaup sings in Sami, a Uralic language spoken in northern Norway as well as other parts of Scandinavia. It is distantly related to Hungarian and Finnish and not at all related to Norwegian. It is classified as "endangered." Her entry, "Oainnat go?" ("Do you see?") was the winner of the Sami Grand Prix, a local contest held in Norway.

4. "Trasmetta"

Dopu Cena sings in Corsican, a Romance language spoken on the French island of Corsica and the Italian island of Sardinia. It is classified as "potentially endangered." Corsican culture has a polyphonic musical tradition, where multiple voices carry multiple melodies simultaneously, on beautiful display here in "Trasmetta" ("To Pass On").

5. "Muxurik Muxu"

Enkore is a band from the Spanish city of Bilbao that has released 2 albums and a single. In their entry "Muxurik Muxu" ("Kiss by Kiss"), they rock out in Basque, a language with no known relatives and undetermined origin that has somehow managed to survive centuries of being surrounded by bigger languages. While the song is about sex, you can sort of hear in its defiant chords another type of survival instinct: the will to speak and sing a language, in order to make it live.

You can see lyrics and translations for these songs, as well as those of the other finalists, here.

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December 7, 2012 - 2:00pm
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