Languages Are Dying - Why You Should Care

Aliyah Sarmiento - Teen Aspect - August 9th, 2022
(Evgeny Haritonov, 2021)
 

Dating back to 150,000 years ago, language has been a vital form of communication and connection among humans all over the globe. With its uniquely expressive utility, it has integrated itself to daily life whether it be written, verbal, or visual. It is because of its undeniable imperative contribution to ever-growing civilizations that raises the concerning question: Why are they disappearing?


“Endangered” is a term not solely used to describe wildlife, another alarming global issue, but with languages as well. In fact, out of the approximate 7,000 languages in the world, an astounding 41% of them are considered endangered. These are identified as the ones not being learned or used by children in their respective communities [2]. Within the years of 1950-2010, around 230 languages went extinct [3], and the rate of language loss still remains a concern today with an approximation of it tripling in the next 40 years [4].


All of these facts taken into account should set the alarm bells ringing for most people. Now, why is this happening? While it is difficult to pinpoint a singular perpetrator, it is easy to reason the whole situation out with multiple varying factors. One of which is the benefits of specific languages, such as English, Mandarin, and Spanish. Consistently being the most communicated languages in the world, many people find it much easier to learn and use them throughout their lives, even if they know another, albeit less used, language. This is known as language dominance,“the language with which a bilingual or multilingual speaker has greatest proficiency and/or uses more often” [5]. This can be exacerbated by schools and the workforce, where more dominant languages overshadow indigenous ones. As a matter of fact, research has shown a positive correlation between higher levels of schooling and language loss [4]. This heavily connects with UNESCO’s findings that “40% of the world’s population cannot access education in a language they understand” [2], which encourages more and more minorities to take on dominant languages.


Another factor contributing to this issue is greater road density. This pushes population movement that overall has allowed for more instances of cultural assimilation to occur and the number of endangered languages to rise. Basically, roads have become leeway for dominant languages to engulf smaller ones.


All in all, the problem with the loss of language diversity is one that should ignite deep distress. With its declining rate, cultural groups can forever be lost to a world constantly globalizing. Just by the end of this century alone, an estimate of 1500 languages may no longer be spoken [4]. And while it would undoubtedly be a severe loss for the groups involved, it also heavily weighs on the entirety of humanity, as well.


Simply put, language is what makes humans human. It is an evolutionary trait that has been sustained and adapted as a reflection of human and cultural development, a mirror of human history and its potential for the future. It is of the essence to conserve it.


So, go. Take that language class you’ve always wanted to take or go download that app that gives you a new word everyday. From asking your bilingual parents questions about their native tongue to traveling abroad and learning a handful of phrases, spark your interest in language and continue that because it is now more vital than ever to do so.


References

[1] Haritonov, E. (2021). Why Are So Many Languages Dying Out? [Photo] Discover Magazine. https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/why-are-so-many-languages-dying-out


[2] Fleming, S. (2020). There are 7,000 languages in use around the world - this is why they matter. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/02/how-some-endangered-languages-thrive/


[3] Stochlic, N. (2018). The Race to Save the World's Disappearing Languages. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/saving-dying-disappearing-languages-wikitongues-culture


[4] Wood, J. (2022). 1,500 endangered languages could disappear by the end of the century. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/01/languages-endangered-diversity-loss-spoken/#:~:text=There%20are%207%2C000%20documented%20languages,the%20end%20of%20this%20century.


[5] Dominant Language. (n.d.) Colorin Colorado. https://www.colorincolorado.org/glossary/dominant-language

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