As surprising as this may seem, a language’s death is nowadays a phenomenon with a much more frequent occurrence than the death of animals or plants species. Every two weeks, one language goes out of use. In this rhythm, 100 years from now, half of the 6000 languages spoken today in the world will be dead.
Languages death is a natural process, but this does not mean that it doesn’t raise controversial issues related to society and culture. Linguists have defined a language as being dead the moment its last speaker passes away. But the extinction of a language starts many years before, which means that, during this time, speakers can either make efforts to save it or they can just let it go. What causes the extinction and final death of a language? Sometimes, a language dies regardless of its speakers will, being banned in certain areas. It is the case of the language spoken by the Turkish Kurds, for example. In such cases, a language may go on living for some time because older people continue to speak it inside their houses.
Usually, a language has higher chances to fall out of use when people speaking it are assimilated by other cultures. In this case, the language dies slowly, by merging with the language of the assimilators. Or its death can be a more accelerated process when the speakers give up themselves their own language because they don’t find any benefit in using it. The actual globalization context for sure has speeded up the extinction of many languages, by replacing them with others more widely spread, more popular, more beneficial. Many languages died in the last decade and alongside with them some eras in the humanity’s evolution closed. Some of these languages were: Mank spoken on the Isle of Man (1974); Wappo, spoken in US (1990); Ubych spoken in Turkey (1992); Catawba also spoken in US (1996); Mlahso spoken in Syria (1998).
The languages the most threatened by extinction today can be found generally in areas where indigenous people still live, like Northern Australia, Central South America, North America’s upper Pacific coastal zone, Eastern Siberia, Oklahoma and the South-West of the United States. Many of the dying language have no written records, so once they go, they will be lost forever. In the present, some of the languages threatened by death are Cornish, Gaelic, Basque, Welsh, Lowa, Barasana or Eyak.
So what if they die, after all, no one finds any use from speaking them, many may argue.
Of course, speaking one of these languages is not seen as an asset within the business or working environment today. But it can be an asset from cultural, spiritual and sometimes even scientific point of view. For example, one dying language is Chulym spoken by very few people in Siberia, and according to the linguist David Harrison, once this language will fall out of use a huge amount of valuable knowledge about medicinal plants, meteorology, hunts and gathering that is verbalized through this language only will be forever lost.
Not giving up your own language or learning a language that is a part of your cultural inheritance is a proof of self-respect and of respect for your past. Update your knowledge and learn as many foreign languages as possible, but never give up on a language that is not foreign to you at all, just because you can’t find any benefit in using it throughout your day-by-day life. And if you are one of the few speakers of a language, contribute to getting it out of the death threat. Share your knowledge with others who are interested in expanding their horizons by learning a foreign language.