Can you guess how many languages there are in the world? Well, maybe surprise, maybe not, there are estimated to be approximately 7,000 different languages in our world. I mean, that’s a lot! Only about 260 of them are spoken in Europe, whereas Asia is the home of about 2,200 languages and Papua New Guinea, a linguist researchers’ paradise, has more than 830 recognized languages, and that is, in one country alone. As much as around 90 percent of these languages are spoken by only 100,000 people. Nowadays it’s common to study foreign languages, but common mostly for the big languages, such as English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian etc.
What we don’t often think about, though, is that some 2,500 of all the world’s languages are considered to be at risk of extinction. This means that their inheritance is still quite efficient, but on the other hand, for instance a big natural disaster could swipe out the whole population, which would result in the extinction of the language. What is even crazier than this, is the fact that there are also several languages with only one single speaker alive. In 2010, the UNESCO Atlas of Endangered Languages reported that there were 18 languages with only one native speaker alive. Today, the number is probably even smaller. Think about it! Think about the situation that you have no other person IN THE WHOLE WORLD that you can talk to in your own mother tongue. According to some estimations, even 80 % of all the languages can vanish within the next century. Exaggeration or not? Maybe, maybe not. All this is sad, but an inevitable consequence of globalism and capitalism and urbanization. Especially sad about this negative development is the fact that not only does the language die out, but also all the heritage, traditions, culture and the diverse ways of seeing and experiencing our world die along. So instead of English or Spanish, how would feel about start learning Mandan, Amurdag or maybe Apiacá instead? Well yeah, maybe not so useful, but I want to tell you about a few endangered languages that most of us don’t know nothing about…
- Hokkaido Ainu
Hokkaido Ainu is a tiny language that belongs to the language family of Ainu and is spoken on the island of Hakkaido in the northern Japan. There have been more than 19 different dialects of Ainu, but nowadays only Hokkaido Ainu is alive. With native population of 10 speakers and some hundreds of other users it belongs to the rarest and most endangered languages on Earth.
Dusner is another endangered language spoken in a small village, Dusner, in Papua, Indonesia. In 2011, it was researched that the language has only three native speakers alive. Dusner belongs to Austronesian and Malayo-Polynesian language families.
Lemerig is a tiny language, which is spoken in the island state of Vanuatu located 1,750 km east of Australia. The language is reported to have only two native speakers alive, which makes it sadly critically endangered. Like Dusner, it belongs to Austronesian and Malayo-Polynesian language families as well as several other subcategories.
Ongota is anoter moribund language spoken in the southwest of Ethiopia. It has been researched that the language has only 12 native speakers (2012), as other people of the tribe has adopted another language as a replacement.
- Ume Sami
Ume Sami, a language belonging to the Uralic and Sami language families, is an endangered language spoken in the upper parts of Sweden and formerly Norway as well. In 2000, the native population consisted of 20 native speakers, whereas today it’s estimated, according to some sources, to be only 10 speakers.
Many efforts have been many and are ongoing as we speak to preserve the knowledge of many of these moribund and extinct languages. However, it is not an easy job to do – it requires a lot of resources, cooperation between linguists, organizations and the native speakers themselves. Does your grandmother or some acquaintance speak some special language? If you are so privileged with such an opportunity, don’t waste it, but start learning it! 🙂