What does it mean to say a language is endangered?
An endangered language is one that is likely to become extinct in the near future. Many languages are falling out of use and being replaced by others that are more widely used in the region or nation, such as English in the U.S. or Spanish in Mexico. Unless current trends are reversed, these endangered languages will become extinct within the next century.
It is estimated that if language decline continues as it has been, half of the world’s languages could be wiped off the map by the end of this century.
Some dying languages are confined to small villages while some others- only to a single person.
Let us learn about these languages in detail:
Resígaro is an Amazonian language native to Peru with only one surviving speaker. After the last surviving female speaker was murdered in 2016, her brother was left as the last remaining speaker of the language. With only one speaker left, Resígaro is possibly the most endangered language on the planet, though Pablo Andrade, its lone speaker, has been undertaking a project to try and document the language since 2016.
2) Irish Gaelic:
Irish Gaelic currently has over 40,000 estimated native speakers. There are several communities in Ireland, called Gaeltachts, where Irish is still spoken as the primary language. Governmental efforts have been in place for many years requiring Irish students to learn the Irish language and encouraging it to be spoken.
Ainu, a Japanese dialect, is known as one of the rarest languages still in existence. The members of the Ainu ethnic group on the island of Hokkaido speak the language. It has no other genealogical relationship with any other languages, but until the 20th century, a small number of people in the Kuri Islands spoke it. All languages, except the Hokkaido language, are extinct and though the Hokkaido Ainu is endangered with 300 known users and 15 fluent speakers, there are ongoing attempts to revive it.
Also known as Votic, Vote, Votian, and Votish, this language is spoken by the Votic people, who were deported from the Soviet Union to Finland in 1943. Those remaining who hold on to the language — which is no longer outlawed — live on the border between Russia and Estonia. In 2010, there were 68 native Vod speakers, but in 2017 just eight remained.
Dunser is an official language spoken by just three residents of Papua New Guinea. It is used for formal occasions like weddings. When two of the three remaining Dunser speakers nearly lost their lives in floods back in 2011, the natural disaster prompted a team of linguists from Oxford University to race to Papua New Guinea to document the language.
Russia’s 2010 census revealed just 44 speakers of the Chulym Turks’ language. Residents of the people’s Siberian villages call themselves and their language Ös. They were dropped as a government-recognized ethnic group in 1959, then regained their status back in 1999.
7) Rapa Nui:
Many languages are endangered because their populations of speakers are isolated on islands; Rapa Nui is one such language. Considered a threatened language, Rapa Nui is spoken on the famous Easter Island; as of 2000, there were 3390 native speakers. Spanish is gradually becoming the more dominant language among the island’s inhabitants.
The Birhor are a Munda-speaking, forest-dependent semi-nomadic tribal community with fewer than 20,000 members concentrated in the eastern central Indian state of Jharkhand and adjacent northern parts of the state of Odisha. Only a few thousand fluent speakers of the Birhor language remain at present as their way of life and their language are both under threat.
Languages are conduits of human heritage. It is often the only way to convey a community’s songs, stories, and poems. Languages also convey unique cultures. Cherokee, for example, has no word for goodbye, only “I will see you again”. We lose ancient knowledge if we lose languages. So it is imperative that something must be done about it. The Catalogue of Endangered Languages, or ELCat, is a project that has been launched by the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity to raise awareness of the drastic loss of language that is currently taking place across the globe.