A couple of weeks ago we posted an article about two men who were reunited after a long time apart and in the process they saved their native language, Ayapaneco. Cue the Peaches and Herb song “Reunited and It Feels so Good“. These two men refused to speak to one another for many years over a disagreement over the language and because of that their beloved language almost died out. But now it’s saved, being recorded and documented.
It’s a beautiful story where friendship prevails and it saves a dying language. But did you know that on average every 14 days a language becomes extinct?
Languages vanish for many reasons. There is language shift, which is when the speakers of a language switch over to a new language and stop teaching their original language. And then there is language death. This is when all the speakers of a language die out without the language being recorded or ever taught to the younger generations.
Because of these 231 known languages have become extinct and 2400 languages are in danger of becoming extinct. And that’s a lot. Remember that there are only an estimated 7000 languages in the world. So, if we do some math, 34% of the world’s languages are in danger of becoming extinct.
To better understand what that 34% looks like let’s look at it relative to the world population.
If we take the current world’s population and how it’s distributed throughout the world (http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/world_population.htm) the languages that are on the verge of extinction would cover all of Africa, the Americas, and half of Europe. That covers most of the populated landmass on earth.
Language extinction isn’t slowing down either. It is estimated that by the year 2100 half of the currently spoken world languages will no longer exist while remaining undocumented (http://mises.org/daily/5846/why-do-languages-die).
Now you’re probably at the stage where you are wondering what is being done to prevent this. For one there are groups like the Rosetta Project and Endangered Languages Project which are trying to do their part to record these languages before they cease to exist. But there are also the many people looking to save languages by themselves and the language speakers themselves.
The definition of a language is “the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.” But it does little justice to describe what a language means to the people who speak it. A language is the very soul of the people who speak it today and all of those who have gone before, it represents the life of the people just as much as the music they make or the art they leave behind.
Languages are the very essence of a people and they should be saved.