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Dying Languages: Scientists Fret as One Disappears Every 14 Days
One of the casualties of the tech explosion and the spread of mass communications is a sort of evening-out effect. As global communications center on English, with Spanish and Mandarin Chinese widely used in their parts of the world, the smaller languages specific to small areas and isolated tribes slowly die out among the young. Once the only native speakers of a language are the oldest generation, it is doomed to become extinct when those elders die out. Now there are efforts to record, document and teach the young the languages of their forefathers to keep them alive.
Excerpt: "Endangered languages, much like endangered species of plants or animals, are on the brink of extinction. According to UNESCO, a language is endangered when parents are no longer teaching it to their children and it is no longer being used in everyday life.
'There are ways to recover, say tomato seeds, but language is an oral medium . . . it is gone if direct speakers are dead and nothing has been done to document it.'--Keren Rice, linguistics professor
A language is considered nearly extinct when it is spoken by only a few elderly native speakers.
It is a huge loss every time a language dies, says Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins, a professor in linguistics at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.
A language defines a people, a culture.
'Languages hold a world of knowledge,' she says. 'We lose knowledge and history and lose connection to a land (when a language is lost).'
Songs, stories, words and expressions — developed over many generations — are also lost. Each language is a unique way of talking to the world, about the world.
Some of the 7,000 languages in the world today have hundreds of millions of speakers — English, Mandarin, Spanish and Arabic, for example — while others have barely a handful left. UNESCO lists a total of 577 languages as critically endangered. And these dying languages are in every corner of the world — Asia, Africa, North America, Australia and South America. Countries with the greatest linguistic diversity are usually also the ones with the most endangered languages."