• 17th October, 2012

90% of all languages will be extinct within 100 years

How does that statement make you feel? What if I told you that right now, at this very moment, around 43% of all world languages are endangered? Would you care? Do you think you should? Read on and ask yourself these very same questions.

We are faced with thousands of languages whose youngest speakers are well into old age; any language not being learnt by children is doomed to die, of that there is no doubt. To put things into perspective, the disappearance of a single language is comparable to the extinction of an entire species. If all cheetahs were wiped out it would be a cultural, scientific and environmental tragedy. We would lose our fastest land mammal, who would take its spot? (No pun intended.) However, the loss of a family of languages would not just be a tragedy it would be disastrous. We are not just talking cheetahs; we are talking the entire feline family. Can you imagine a world without lions and tigers and even your pet cat?

Languages are treasures; upon their death we lose oral literature, oral history and oral traditions. We lose data about where we come from, about the links between all human groups on this planet. We lose scientific knowledge about the identification of plant and animal species and medicines. Did you know that over 75% of all plant derived pharmaceuticals were discovered thanks to verbal intelligence passed on from tribal healers and shamans? Thanks to an altruistic Samoan healer, over 121 herbal remedies were discovered including the Mamala plant and the anti-viral drug Prostratin which was primarily used to treat yellow fever but was later discovered to prove effective against HIV Type 1.

A relatively new theory is that we only look for the negatives in the death of languages when we should focus the positive results of a language homologation/natural selection process. Wouldn’t we all live happily ever after if we spoke the same language? Wouldn’t this bring peace? Compare the monolingual Northern Ireland, or the former Yugoslavia where all Serbians and Croatians spoke the same language with multilingual Belgium or Switzerland. Losing languages can quite often translate into the violation of basic human rights. Perhaps we should all just be a little more understanding of which language we all speak? We could start there…

Now, ask yourself those questions again and let us know what you think via Twitter, Facebook or the Lingualia website.
There are some great resources available online. Check out Endangered Languages: A project by the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity, UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger and also Indigenous Tweets who are tracking down endangered languages in use today on Twitter!

Post adapted from this article.

Posted in : Languages Online


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