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Endangered linguistic diversity

June 18, 2007

Some linguists warn that of the world’s 6,000-odd languages that are spoken today, about half will disappear by the end of the century. That means 300 languages become extinct in a year, or about six in a week.

A BBC documentary posed an interesting question: When does a language become extinct? Is it when the last person who speaks the language dies or is it the last survivor, who cannot converse with anyone in that language?

The culprits of the death of our global linguistic diversity are none other than “universal” languages like English, Spanish, Portugese, French, Russian, Mandarin and others.

While there’s a lot of concern about our environment and global warming, there appears to be less on how languages like English are steamrolling over smaller fragile ones.

The death of such languages is a bit like what’s happening to our planet’s biodiversity. There’s a lot of concern but not enough to take serious and effective action to stop such destruction.

How will languages evolve hundreds of years from now if humanity only speaks a handful of languages? Will it spark wars after all the smaller languages have been wiped off the face of the Earth?

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