Language Endangerment — Why and how should we protect them?

Perhaps one of the most important issues of our time is the increasing rate of language endangerment, where a language is at risk of falling out of use as its speakers die out or shift to speaking other languages. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation ([wiki]UNESCO[/wiki]), there are an estimated 7,000 languages spoken widely today, and more than 3,000 languages are reportedly spoken by fewer than 10,000 people each.

REASONS THAT COULD AFFECT LANGUAGE DIVERSITY?

  • Education: A language can become endangered when it is no longer being taught to the younger generation of the community, or when the child speakers are not enough to ensure its survival. An example is [wiki]Resigaro[/wiki], an Amazonian language, which is considered the most likely to become extinct as it is only used by two children in honour of their mother.
  • Social acceptance: Language can also be associated with power and status relationship, when children are usually encouraged to use more official languages for access to better education, career, and societal opportunities. For instance, due to the Mandarin promotion campaign in China, some of its dialects are pushed to the brink of extinction, with an estimated number of over 100.
  • Urbanisation: As one of the greatest concentration of linguistic diversity(a measure of the density of languages, covering various types of traits including language family, grammar and vocabulary) in the world, Africa has a total number of almost 2,000 languages. Ever since the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the overall threat level of language endangerment there has been characterised and widely accepted as low compared to the rest of the world. This is likely because of the huge ethnic diversity, mass migration and the economic development of various tribes.

IMPORTANCE OF LANGUAGE PROTECTION

  • Communicative tool: Language is a vital tool for communication. It passes on information, helps people from the same ethnolinguistic backgrounds(groups that are unified by both a common ethnicity and language, with an emphasis on the latter) to better empathise with one another, and build friendships, economic relationships and cultural ties.
  • Unique cultural value: The differences in languages also help define the culture of any region or country, and celebrate the uniqueness of each community. When a language becomes extinct, the ability to understand its original culture and other inherited information is often threatened due to a loss of information during translation.

KATHERINE ZHANG

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