Thursday, December 27, 2007

About 2,000 languages may disappear on Earth in 100 years

A language dies on planet Earth every two weeks. This data was published by David Harrison, a linguist and deputy director of Living Tongues Institute, USA.

There are about 7,000 languages existing in the world today. Eighty percent of people living in the world today speak the widely-spread 83 languages, and only 0,2 percent interact in rare 3,500 languages.

Languages die quicker than Red Book animals. There are five disastrous areas for languages in the world: North Australia (153 languages), Central and South America (113), including Ecuador, Columbia, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia, North Pacific Plateau (54), including British Columbia in Canada, Washington and Oregon in the USA, North American Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, Russian Eastern Siberia, China and Japan (23). To put it in a nutshell, 383 languages are in danger of disappearing for good.

A language may at time disappear immediately when the last person speaking it passes away. For example, there is only one person left speaking Siletz Dee-ni – the last language of 27 used by Indians residing in Siletz reservation. This language has practically died. As a rule, the youngest of those speaking rare languages are aged over 60. Only five elderly individuals speak Yuchi language in Oklahoma, for instance.

Rare languages mostly disappear being unable to compete with other tongues. In North and South America aboriginal dialects were ousted by European languages – Spanish, English and French. In Australia, numerous conflicts between aboriginal tribes and white settlers caused a precarious situation of many languages.

A similar situation was formed in Soviet Siberia, were authorities contributed to the extinction of a number of local languages, making local residents speak dialects of various Siberian regions.

About a half of all world languages have never been written down. When the last person speaking this language dies, the language disappears. The death of a language means the disappearance of everything else, that a nation had: their own world, their knowledge of time, biology, mathematics, etc.

Professor Sergei Arutyunov, the head of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, considers the process to be the natural aging of languages. “This is a matter of the natural aging of languages. On the other hand, if 20 languages disappear every year, then it means than 2,000 languages will vanish in a hundred years. This could be a cultural tragedy for the human civilization. In Russia, for example, one language disappears every year. About 20 languages died in the USSR during the last 20 years of its existence. I at least know two of those languages,” the professor said.

Arutyumov sees no connection between the extinction of languages and globalization. “A language dies only when a small group of elderly people speaking it is left, whereas younger people refuse to use this language. Globalization and language is a different story,” the scientist said.


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