One of our greatest accomplishments is the development of languages, which unite and also divide us at the same time. Around 6,000 unique languages are in use on Earth right now. But UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger has more than 2,500 endangered languages, at least 600 of which are critically endangered. The question is why so many languages are disappearing.
One reason is that languages die out along with their speakers. Many native speakers of a language may perish in one mass death if their community is very tiny or if they are victims of genocide. Speakers of minority languages are much more likely to abandon their language in favor of the dominant language or a universal language.
Another indicator that a language is in danger is when it is no longer being taught to new generations. When younger generations stop using the language, it is said to have died. Most of the time, these trends progress simultaneously.
We are seeing an abandonment of languages
For instance, Latin became the dominant language in what is now France after totally replacing the Gallic language, which had been used there from around the 4th century B.C. to the third century A.D. Another example is the East Frisian and Sorbian languages, which are at risk of dying out in Central Europe.
Only around 2,000 individuals now speak Sater Frisian, the final relic of East Frisian. They are spread out throughout three different communities in the Oldenburg district of Lower Saxony in Germany.
This language was at risk of dying out since only the elderly still spoke it. To a lesser extent than before, Sater Frisian is being taught in local schools once again. Saterland could be the tiniest linguistic island in all of Europe.
The Alabama language is on the brink of extinction, with only 370 speakers left around North America. When Hernando de Soto arrived in 1540, he was the first European to hear the Alabama language. The language is related to the Muskogean languages Koasati and Apalachee.
The decline of languages persist
UNESCO found that roughly 97% of the world population speaks only 4% of the 6,000 languages around the globe. This implies that the vast majority of languages are almost abandoned by the global population. Half of all languages are now seeing a dramatic decline in speaker numbers. UNESCO predicts that by the end of the 21st century, the dominant language will have replaced more than 90% of the world’s indigenous languages.
Most language experts would agree that losing a language would be a tragedy. This is so because the loss of culture also means the loss of its traditions and values. Language is an essential part of a person’s identity, and the people who speak that language have a special connection to it. Many people who experience this change see the loss of their native language and culture as a tragic occurrence.
Efforts to preserve languages that are at risk of extinction
However, it is still possible to save an endangered language. One way that the affected language’s importance could be strengthened is through the presence of the media. Opportunities to revive and spread a language may also be found through targeted education in schools, such as in elective or special programs. Documenting and archiving an endangered language often provides the linguistic community with the urge to advocate for and strive to preserve its own language.