According to research, many languages are spoken in the world, but after few decades the number of languages may fall to low thousands. According to linguist David Crystal, only few languages from 600 to 700 languages are safe from extinction. In one census count, 6703 languages were spoken in the world in 1996; around 1000 were spoken in Americas, 2165 in Asia, and 2011 in Africa. These metrics are out-dated as we are living in the 21 century. Most of these languages will go extinct in a century. Some experts believe the number may go down by half as most languages will give way to other majority languages like English, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi etc. By next century, 90% of languages may become extinct. Why do we say that our languages are endangered or they are under threat; and how will they impact us in future is a question worth reflecting.
Language endangerment is a situation where the use of a language may die out. A language may become dead when there is no native speakers, it is similar in concept with wildlife endangerment. It will have the same consequence as endangerment of wildlife has on earth. Many languages were lost throughout history, but they are disappearing rapidly because of globalization; where the economically powerful languages are having monopoly over other languages. There are three main measures which can be used to analyse language endangerment.
1. The number of living speakers of that language.
2. The average age of native speakers.
3. The number of young people of that language becoming fluent at that particular language.
The most common reason for language endangerment is the domination of a particular common language on other less commonly spoken languages. Experts believe that language endangerment is a major problem which will have humanistic as well as scientific consequences.
A language becomes extinct when the speakers are no more or they shift to speaking another language which is spoken by a more powerful group. There are many reasons which can threaten a particular language like military, economic, religious, culture and education which are external forces. On the other hand there are internal forces such as a community’s attitude towards its own language which is one of the main reasons for language extinction. According to Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages which is a part of Cambridge Handbooks in Language and Linguistics, there are many reasons for language extinction. There are causes which put the speakers of a particular language under physical danger such as natural disasters, famine, disease, war and genocide. On the other hand there are those causes which prevent speakers to use a particular language such as political repressions, cultural, political and economic marginalization.
Sociolinguists and anthropological linguists are trying to identify the effects of language loss or shift on native speakers. It is commonly seen as loss of social identity as cultural, spiritual and religious life is experienced through language. Prayers, ceremonies, oratory to greetings, conversational styles and way of speaking are all affected by loss of language. A new speaker has to readjust to all the new ways and tradition of his new found language like word categories, sound and grammatical structures etc. Linguists have reported that even if the social identity is maintained, there is loss of culture and tradition. Linguists believe that language loss is an ethical problem. It is an unavoidable result of progress and globalization. But in reality it is a consequence of intolerance for culture and diversity.
The most important thing that can be done to prevent language loss is to create favorable conditions for native speakers. It requires polices that protect minority languages like introduction of mother tongue instructions in educational institutions. There should be collaboration between native speakers and linguists for translation of language, developing writing systems and instructions in that language. The attitude of the speaker community is the most important factor in reviving its own language. It is necessary to create a system where multilingualism is encouraged and minority languages are respected. Linguists, native communities, non-governmental organizations and international organizations like UNESCO are working together to save endangered languages. When a language is marked as endangered the following three steps are taken, the first is documentation of language, the second is revitalization of language and the third is maintenance of language. language documentation is the process of documenting grammar, vocabulary and oral traditions of that particular endangered language, language revitalization is a process in which programs are introduced to increase the number of speakers of that particular language and language maintenance is the process of giving support to languages that’s need to be protected from outside influence like a majority language.
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