Research shows that 90 % of the languages spoken today will become extinct before this century has passed (http://www.chinasmack.com/stories/90-percent-worlds-languages-extinct-in-41-years/). So what’s the big deal, you might think. Isn’t it good that as many people as possible talk the same language so that they can understand each other? At least I thought like that. Before I read a certain article that is.
There it says: “The extinction of each language results in the irrecoverable loss of unique cultural, historical, and ecological knowledge. Each language is a unique expression of the human experience of the world. Thus, the knowledge of any single language may be the key to answering fundamental questions of the future. Every time a language dies, we have less evidence for understanding patterns in the structure and function of human language, human prehistory, and the maintenance of the world’s diverse ecosystems, (Bernard 1992, Hale 1998).
I found this a very good explanation of why efforts have to be made to preserve endangered languages. Unesco work hard to do this. They publish a list of endangered languages and the risk that they will disappear. You can find it in a map form here. When I found this I had a thought. The thought was about supply and demand. What if one would learn some of the languages that were seriously endangered?
How valuable would you be to linguists, historians, and humankind on a whole? If by chance you sit and think: “Wow, this sounds like something for me, I would gladly put everything else aside to travel the world and learn the most uncommon languages that exist.” Consider yourself lucky. I took the liberty of putting together a short guide of what such a trip could look like. I have chosen extremely endangered languages on each continent and described them briefly. A travel guide to make yourself invaluable and save the human cultural heritage (from which we can learn to survive in the future) in other words. You’re welcome!
So depending on where you live you start in a different place. However, my guide starts in Europe. To be precise you have to make your way to Halych in western Ukraine to learn Karaim. Hopefully you can convince one of the six who speak it there to teach you. It’s a Turkish language with Hebrew influences (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karaim_language).
After a couple of years in Halych, Chad is your next destination. Within the country’s boarders there are ten persons who speak Massalat. Probably you will find them in the western part as the Masalites origin from Darfur. Unesco gives the coordinates lat: 12.7635; long: 20.5993.
After your visit in Africa you pack your bags for the area east of the lake Kvövsgöl in the northernmost part of Mongolia. There, you will hopefully find one of the ten persons who speak Khövsgöl Uryangkhay. Personally, I think that this sounds like Uruk-hai, you know from “Lord of the Rings” which in my book is enough reason to learn the language.
The next destination will be Erromango on Vanuatu where you will find three possible teachers in the Ura language. The island is situated between Australia and Fiji.
Thereafter, you go to the southernmost point of Chile, to the community Villa Ukika where the only remaining speaker of Yahgan lives. Apparently, this was one of the first languages that the European explorers heard (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaghan_language).
Finally, you finish your trip in Alaska, USA. Here there are five speakers of Holikachuk. As a sample of the language I can mention that the word for the month November is “łoogg dood mininh iligh” which translates the month when the eel swims. Even if there is a dictionary this is one of the least documented native Alaskan languages.
Have a pleasant journey!
PS. I don’t guarantee that the speakers of these languages want to teach it. Don’t bother them if they say no!