What Are the Most Endangered Languages?
We’re on the Brink of Losing Half Our Voices
Of the 7,000 languages on Earth today, we may loose half of these by the next century. Fewer than 30 have more than 2,000 speakers, in fact. A language dies every 14 days, according to Vanishing Voices, a project of the National Geographic Society. When a language dies, with it goes the unique way of looking at the world spoken by the users of that language, and also the culture, history and important information about the world.
Work To Save Endangered Languages
There are many groups working hard to save and or preserve endangered languages. Creating dictionaries, language classes, recording the remaining speakers for posterity, many non-profit groups are committed to this cause. There is hope and cases where language revival has happened. Examples like the revival of the Hawaiian language, are hopeful reminders of what is possible.
Hebrew Success Story
The story of Hebrew should give hope to those who feel that it is impossible to really revive a dying language. Hebrew was considered extinct as a language until the 19th century. It is now spoken by 7,000,000 people around the world, though, of course, most of those people live in Israel, where Hebrew has been made the official language.
What Can You Do?
One simple way to help preserve languages is to learn them. I suppose this is a simple, but not necessarily easy idea. Begin with this interactive map to learn if there is an endangered language in your geographic area, or perhaps an endangered language that is tied to your ethnic heritage. A friend once took on the challenge of learning Gaelic, for example, for just this reason. It can be a rewarding experience, and an incredible journey into another culture.
For more information on endangered languages and how you can help, start with this language story map, put out by the Smithsonian Institution.