The Vulnerability of Language

March 29, 2016 Natalie Williams

We often take language for granted, learning to speak in our mother tongue from a young age and continuing to learn multiple languages as we grow older. However, many of the languages that we speak today may not be here in the future. There are some languages that are in danger of becoming extinct in the next century. This blog will cover what qualifies a language as endangered and why some languages are no longer being taught to the next generation.

Endangered vs. Extinct Languages

gpi-language vulnerability-home

An endangered language is a language that is at risk of dying when its speakers die or if they decide to shift their language to another language. When a language dies, it can also become extinct. However, a dead language and an extinct language are not necessarily the same. A dead language may still be referred to in context; an extinct language is no longer referred to or used in any medium.

UNESCO categorizes languages in danger as:

  • Vulnerable
  • Definitely endangered
  • Severly endangered
  • Critically endangered
  • Extinct

It is believed that of the 7,000 languages currently spoken around the world, nearly half of these will become extinct by 2050. Many "smaller" languages are being pushed out for larger, more commonly used languages, like  English and Spanish. These lesser-used languages are not being utilized by the younger generation or being taught at an early age, therefore, they are being replaced by more frequently used languages.

UNESCO added or changed the status of the following languages in its February update:

Preserving Languages

There are many languages that will disappear with their last living speakers. Language extinction can occur for a number of reasons, including historical and cultural changes to an area like war, or more simply, just a shift in interest.

There are individuals and organizations, like UNESCO and Endangered Language Project, that are working to revive endangered languages or preserve languages that could face extinction. For many, a language is more than just something spoken, communicated or translated. It reflects a world of its own with specific cultures and philosophies. Language is heavily weighted in culture and with the loss of a language, so goes with it the loss of a culture and a piece of history.

Summary

Regardless of the possibility of major language extinction in the future, languages (and the learning of languages) are still extremely important. Learning a new language can help increase brain power, improve career options, aid you when travelling overseas and help you understand global issues. Linguists continue to preserve languages in the hopes that if they do become extinct, they will live on and be understood as an integral part of the history of many different cultures.

Translation and Localization Resources

You may gain further insights into global e-business, global SEO, website translation, country specific cultural facts and related topics by reviewing some previous blogs and resources written by GPI:

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About the Author

Natalie Williams

Global Digital Marketing Manager. Natalie was born and raised in Montana where she graduated from The University of Montana with a degree in Business Administration. Her international experience includes two summer programs, one at The European Business School in Germany and the other at The University of Brescia in Italy. She studied a variety of global business subjects including international business, trade, culture and language. Key projects for her undergrad studies included meeting with executives from large corporations such as Lufthansa, Opel, and The European Central Bank as well as working with the design team on the marketing plan for the 2015 World Fair in Milan, Italy. She has a range of global event management experience including organization of the Annual Mansfield Conference on the Middle East and the China Town Hall meeting series. Her hobbies include yoga, cooking, reading, being outdoors and traveling.

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