Endangered Languages – Learn them before it’s too late!

Last time we took a look at Top 10 Most Spoken Languages in the World.

What we have discovered is the fact that all these languages are spoken by more than 50% of the world population. Incredible, right?

Dozen of languages will extinct in the near future

And now imagine that there are another 6000 foreign languages, which are spoken by the rest 50%. What’s more, most of them don’t even have more than 100 native speakers.

These languages are seriously endangered, which may lead into their extinction or transformation into so-called ”dead language”.

Areas of endangered languages all over the world.
Areas of endangered languages all over the world.

Unfortunately, scientist say that thanks to domination of powerful languages like English or Spanish in 2100 up to 90% of languages will extinct and they won’t be spoken anymore, not mentioning that you won’t be able to learn them.

 

Dead Languages are still with us

Even though language dies, it preserve in the written form. A great example of dead language is Latin or Ancient Greek – you can still learn the language, but you won’t find many people to speak with. So basically dead language means that the language is no longer in the form in which we could find them in ancient books and writings, but we are still able to learn them.

Quot linguas calles, tot homines vales – One is worth as many people as the languages he knows
– Charles V., Holy Roman Emperor

As we saw in the past, Latin has evolved into several European languages, such as French, Italian, Spanish or Romanian. Ancient Greek has evolved into Modern Greek. Even Middle English is no longer spoken and has evolved into something we call Modern English.

 

Only 1 native speaker? Language is close to extinction!

However, when the last speaker dies, the language becomes extinct. Lots of languages today have ONLY one native speaker still alive. This person’s death will mean the extinction of the whole language. It won’t be spoken anymore nor known by anyone.

UNESCO classified 5 levels of endangerment:

  1. Safe (language is actually not endangered)
  2. Vulnerable (children don’t use the language outside of the home)
  3. Definitely endangered (children don’t use it at all)
  4. Severely endangered (only old people speak the language)
  5. Critically endangered (only a few of the oldest speak the language)

As safe you can consider languages like Chinese, Spanish or English. They are learnt at schools and have a huge base of native speakers. As critically endangered we might consider Apiaka, Bikya and others with less than 10 speakers officially documented.

 

How language becomes extinct?

There are several ways how language may extinct; I have already mentioned why this happens and what is actually behind it. The main reason why languages extinct is the globalization of powerful languages but it is not the only one as there are also other ways:

  • Mass Genocide – For example, when European travelers invaded Tasmania in the 19th century, several languages died.
  • Forbidden – Often community is forced to give up its language. For example – Kurds in Turkey, where it is forbidden by law to formally teach their language.
  • Lack of Interest – Language’s fate may change in a single generation if children no longer willing to learn it. Example: Yupik Eskimo in Alaska, where 20 years ago ALL children spoken YUPIK, however, today they only learn English, as it is the only language they actually need for living.
extinct-and-endangered-languages
Source: www.UNESCO.com

Save the languages!

As you can see, it is a serious problem, which can’t be solved easily. In this case have arisen several non-profit organisations, whose purpose is to record and document endangered languages. One of the organisations I would like to highlight is Institute for Endangered languages – Living Tongues. They have reached more than 100 endangered language communities in 15 countries and they have created over 80 talking-dictionaries to save these languages from extinction.

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