I remembered reading somewhere about a language that its speakers believe the written words are sacred (or some other reasons) they chose to refrain from putting spoken words into written forms even though they do have a writing system.

I guess my question is, most of the languages with very few or no written scriptures were due to the lack of a writing system or being forced to abandon one. Is there a speech community that voluntarily refrains from writing things down due to their belief system?

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    The closest thing I can remember to this is a case of a Native American community located in the USA with a moribund language. They want to let their language die and refused to collaborate with linguists in language preservation. Unfortunately, I don't have the name of the community to link to this story, therefore only a comment. Feb 14, 2019 at 15:38
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    This is also one of the many anecdotes told about Pirahã, and like all things Pirahã, should be taken with a massive grain of salt.
    – Draconis
    Feb 14, 2019 at 21:39
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    It may be the case with Quinault, though that would be from the 60's and 70's and things may have changed (except the last speaker died 20 years ago).
    – user6726
    Feb 15, 2019 at 1:02
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    @Draconis. It was definitely not about Pirahã. Feb 15, 2019 at 11:17
  • @jknappen Oh, no, sorry, not talking about your anecdote—the OP's story reminds me of one of Everett's claims about Pirahã, that they're culturally unable to read or write.
    – Draconis
    Feb 15, 2019 at 15:10

2 Answers 2


You may have heard this about Turoyo, though the situation is slightly different from what you describe.

Turoyo is a Neo-Aramaic language, mostly spoken by Syriac-Orthodox Christians. In the 1970s, Turoyo-speaking immigrants in Sweden obtained governmental support for promoting Turoyo as a minority language. They developed a writing system (previously, Turoyo was unwritten) based on the Latin alphabet.

However, Turoyo is similar to Syriac which is used by the Church. This language has its own script. To some people, Turoyo felt as a corrupt form of Syriac, and the identity of the church was intertwined with the Syriac writing system. Therefore, the Church and some other organizations opposed the developments in Turoyo.

You can read more about this in S. Bednarowicz (2017), 'Translation as Corpus Planning: The Little Prince in the Neo-Aramaic Minority Language Turoyo', in Moving Texts, Migrating People and Minority Languages, specifically sections 3 and 4:

At the beginning, the Swedish project for the Turoyo language gained acceptance and great interest among Turoyo speakers. However, there were also critics of this initiative. The main opposition was on part of the Church and some national organizations (Arnold 2005: 86–87). The Church promoted using the Syriac language as the only literary medium. Although it supports the modernization of vocabulary and regularly organizes Suryoyo courses in church schools, for many churchmen Turoyo was nothing else but a corrupt form of Syriac. The use of the Latin script was another factor that discouraged the Church from supporting the Swedish project, since the Syriac script (especially serto) is considered to be an integral part of Church identity (Talay 2002: 74). As far as the national organizations are concerned, they perceive the emergence of the new language as an attempt to divide the nation. There are currently two main national movements among Turoyo speaking Christians, that is Assyrians and Arameans,4 and they are in state of permanent struggle.

  • Great answer. But I would add that it is not because of the belief system per se - there are plenty of secular Christian neo-Aramaic speakers who are against division, and there are multiple churches. Feb 16, 2019 at 10:32

I've read about an Amerindian tribe in Quebec, for which linguists had designed a written orthography for their language. But apparently, the speakers are not interested in writing or reading their language. I don't know if it's religious, but in all cases, these people are not interested in having a written form of their language.

  • What tribe is that? Do you have a reference? Sep 28, 2019 at 19:35
  • Maybe that was the Naskapis. But I can't find the exact online reference I once read on that topic.
    – user23769
    Sep 29, 2019 at 19:36

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