Languages Around The World
While it may seem like only a handful of languages are used around the world, the reality is that a vast number are spoken by people in different countries and cultures. In fact, linguists suggest that around 6,500 languages are currently used for daily communication needs. Many of these are not well known and are utilized by indigenous peoples. The diversity in languages, however, is declining. Over 400 languages were lost over the last 100 years, at a rate of 1 every 3 months and approximately 50% of the languages remaining today are expected to disappear over the next century. In other words, 1 language will go extinct every 2 weeks. Some researchers believe that the percentage is higher.
Why Do Languages Become Extinct?
As previously mentioned, thousands of the current living languages are spoken by indigenous individuals. Because these languages are usually only spoken at home by older generations and not typically taught in schools, children do not become fluent speakers. Additionally, once these children become adults, they are less likely to need knowledge of the indigenous language in their daily lives and instead adapt more commonly spoken tongues (like English, Mandarin, Arabic, Swahili, and Chinese). Because of this movement toward more dominant languages, these individuals do not go on to teach the indigenous languages to their children, believing that the dominant language is more valuable for future employment opportunities. Over time, the remaining speakers pass away, causing the language to become extinct.
The Importance Of Language Diversity
Many individuals question the importance of language diversity, likening language extinction to “survival of the fittest” or viewing it as a personal choice that individuals choose not to continue using their native tongue. Linguists are quick to point out, however, that when a language dies, a wide range of information is lost forever. The oral traditions of an entire culture are gone and with that, the songs, anecdotes, and historical occurrences that document an important piece of human history are also lost. Information about the medicinal value of plants and habits of local animals becomes a mystery to future generations as well.
Other researchers point out that it is not only information that disappears, but also a unique way of looking at the world. Each language has its own phrases, expressions, and grammatical rules that provide a different point of view and understanding of the world around us. The language a person speaks also affects the way they think and process information. In fact, indigenous languages are often considered more complex in nature than a widely spoken language like English, which has been simplified over the years in order to be more widely applicable. Without language diversity, the world becomes slowly more homogenous in a variety of ways.
Still, other experts suggest that having a unique language shared by a specific culture facilitates communication and encourages collaboration among people. These lesser-known languages also provide a sense of cultural identity and of communal belonging.
Read more: worldatlas.com