When languages die...

According to the National Geographic a language dies every 14 days. Researchers show that the list of endangered languages is getting longer every day and that, by the next century, nearly half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will likely disappear. Some even argue that up to 90 percent of today’s languages will have vanished by 2115. Most of these have never been recorded and so would be lost forever…



Languages die for various reasons, which can be political, economic or cultural. For example, the majority of second-generation immigrants to the United States do not speak their parents’ languages fluently: it is economically and culturally more beneficial to speak English.



Some people argue that language loss, like species loss, is simply a fact of life on an ever-evolving planet.


When a language dies, however, it is not only about words. Languages shape the way people think, they shape their personality and the way they see the world around them.

In the Tuvan language, for example, khoj özeeri defines the slaughter of a sheep. It does not, however, only mean slaughter. For the Tuvan the word implies kindness, humaneness, a ceremony by which a family can kill, skin, and butcher a sheep, salting its hide and preparing its meat and

making sausage with the saved blood and cleansed entrails so neatly that the whole thing can be accomplished in two hours. Khoj özeeri implies a relationship to animals that is also a measure of a people’s character.


Another example is found in the Aka language, in which there is no word for job in the sense of salaried labour. This is probably a result of the tribe’s isolation and their radical self-sufficiency.


Again, Cherokee, has no word for goodbye, only “I will see you again”. Likewise, no phrase exists for “I’m sorry”. On the other hand, it has special expressions all its own. One word – oo-kah-huh-sdee –represents the mouth-watering, cheek-pinching delight experienced when seeing an adorable baby or a kitten.



Nowadays, there are many projects with the aim of documenting endangered languages and preventing language extinction. Saving them will not only safeguard a culture and its words, it will allow the world to preserve ancient knowledge, promote the diversity of thoughts and ideas, maintain the possibility of new studies in all possible fields of science and social behaviour.




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