Worldwide: 2,500 Languages Disappearing

An interactive map of endangered languages, showing 2,500 out of 6,000 tongues at risk, has been released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The international organization asks users to contribute comments to a project that has many bloggers worried about preserving cultures.

UNESCO Map of Languages at Risk

UNESCO Map of Languages at Risk

Iglesia Descalza, a librarian, blogs:

As someone who loves languages, I am chagrined to read the news coming out of UNESCO's presentation of the updated Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing. According to the Atlas, unveiled on the eve of International Mother Language Day (21 February), nearly 200 languages have fewer than 10 speakers and 178 others have between 10 and 50 speakers.

The data shows that out of the 6,000 languages currently in existence, over 200 have died out over the last three generations, 538 are critically endangered, 502 severely endangered, 632 definitely endangered and 607 unsafe.

As the last remaining speakers of a language pass away, the language itself dies. The language of Manx in the Isle of Man died out in 1974 when Ned Maddrell, the last speaker, passed away while Eyak, in Alaska, United States, met its demise last year with the death of Marie Smith Jones.


We need to prize bio-diversity, cultural and racial diversity, and linguistic diversity because we lose too much by becoming homogenized into one big, white, English-speaking society.

While disappearing languages are mostly those of indigenous peoples faced with globalization and state-nationalism, Daniel Moving Out, a blog by a Portugal native now in the UK, says not all “unofficial” languages are dying out:


The Galician sounds like a cross between Spanish and Portuguese, somewhat like a dialect originated from the second and enriched with vocabulary and accent of the first. The language is originated from the Galician-Portuguese of medieval times, and it was spoken at all the County of Portucale. […]

This week, the Unesco atlas of world languages was released, regarding Galician as a strong language among those that are not the main languages of any country. It receives protection from the Castilian (common Spanish) from being geographically close to Portugal.


The blog, nonetheless, summarizes some of the worst data:


199 languages have less than a dozen of native speakers. In Indonesia, the 4 remaining speakers of Lengilu talk within [themselves]; the Karaim in Ukraine is kept by only 6 people. Over than 200 different languages have disappeared in the last 3 generations. The Manx, from the Isle of Man, here in the UK died with the last native speaker in 1974.

But not everyone is concerned with disappearing languages. Commenting on TED blog, user Magnus Lindkvist says:

[…] Why do we insist on romanticizing ancient languages that arguably noone wants to speak anymore? What about the hundreds of new programming languages that have sprung up in the past decades? Or the infinite variations of English that people are adopting and “remixing” to make their own around the world? These are real languages and show a lot more vitality than Manx and Tirahi.

Abdullah Waheed, a native speaker of Dhivehi – an “official” language yet one with not many speakers in Maldives – explains in one example why language preservation matters:


Dhivehi language is absolutely vital to the identity of Maldivians as a people and Maldives as a country, because it is the only feature we all share and which few others have. It is a strategic factor in our advances towards sustainable development and the harmonious coordination of our affairs.
Far from being a field reserved for writers, Dhivehi lies at the heart of all social, economic and cultural life. Dhivehi does matter to all of us. It matters when we want to promote cultural diversity, and fight illiteracy, and it matters for quality education, including teaching in the first years of schooling. It matters in the fight for greater social inclusion, for creativity, economic development and safeguarding indigenous knowledge.



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