Today, 28th of January 2019, the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL) will begin. And there are good reasons to spread awareness about the state of the world’s indigenous languages.
As linguists, we are all too familiar with the depressing statistics surrounding indigenous languages. As is summarized on websites like Ethnologue, around 4,000 of the approximately 7,000 languages of the world are spoken by a mere two percent of the world’s population. The eight most spoken languages globally (a little over 0.01 percent of all languages) are spoken by no less than 40 percent of the people inhabiting our planet.
It is estimated that half of the world’s languages will be extinct by the end of this century, but so far no action has been taken against this on a global scale.
How and why do languages disappear?
Many people do not particularly care about the fact that languages become extinct, because, the thinking goes, they did not stand the test of time, and so people switch to a more practical language. In that regard, the extinction of languages is largely comparable to the extinction of animal species.
Some people are saddened by the fact that animals die out, but others might say that this is just natural selection. This is however not always true: Although countless animal species have indeed become extinct as a result of natural selection, the rate at which they are currently dying out is unprecedented compared to the time before homo sapiens got a foothold in the animal kingdom.
With languages, this is actually not entirely different. Sometimes people say that the extinction of languages is the result of natural selection, but this is not true. It is in fact humans who cause language extinction.
Read more: Science Nordic