The World’s Endangered Languages
Today, just under 8,000 languages are spoken around the world – a number that’s been in rapid decline for decades now. It is estimated that every two weeks, another language disappears completely, with no written or recorded archive to pass on. In this blog post, we’re going to take a look at some of the more widely known languages that have been officially classed as Definitely Endangered.
What are Endangered Languages?
UNESCO makes classifications of the degree of endangerment of a language, ranging from Safe through degrees of being Endangered to Extinct. The point at which a language begins to be identified as Definitely Endangered is when it is no longer being taught to children as a mother tongue.
Before the Second World War, Yiddish was a widely spoken language among Jews in Europe, with its roots in German and Hebrew. It is estimated that, of the 6 million Jews who died during the Holocaust, 85% of them were Yiddish speakers. Since the war, the spread of Jewish people around the world has made Yiddish an endangered language. Even with that classification, it is still a widely spoken language in some communities around the world.
Not to be confused with Scots Gaelic, Irish is the native language of Ireland. While it is still taught in schools, the use of the language declined during British rule and has struggled to recover in the hundred years since independence. Efforts have been made in Irish communities internationally to revive the language, with Irish language schools and courses being set up in the United States and Canada. Despite this, the declining number of children learning the language as a mother tongue has placed Irish on UNESCO’s list of endangered languages.
Armenian as a language is split between Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian, with the latter spoken in the Middle East and in Turkey. While they are intelligible to educated and literate users of both languages, they contain differences in pronunciation that create difficulties for illiterate or semi-literate users of each to understand one another. Both dialects of Western Armenian are on UNESCO’s list of endangered languages, in the Definitely Endangered category. This is partly the fallout of the Armenian Genocide, in which Western Armenia lost its own language. The only remaining speakers of Western Armenian are the Hemshin people, who evaded persecution due to being Muslim.
Native to Oklahoma, the Cherokee tribe is indicative of a great many Native American tribes that suffered upon the arrival of European settlers to North America. Like other languages on UNESCO’s list of endangered languages, Cherokee is no longer being taught to children as a mother tongue. Where it differs from many of the languages on the list, and particularly other Native American languages, is that Cherokee is preserved in written form.
Can endangered languages be saved?
The sad reality is that most of the endangered languages on UNESCO’s list are simply impossible to save. While efforts are being made to revive some languages, like Irish, or preserve others in writing, like Cherokee, it is unlikely that most of the others around the world will receive similar treatment. Having said that, the Wikitongues project is striving to record spoken languages before they disappear completely. A number of the last remaining speakers of some of the most critically endangered languages are being recorded speaking in the past, present and future tenses to create a record of the languages that will die with them.
How can we help?
While we can’t revive extinct languages, we can help you with your other language needs. Get in touch to see how we can help, or take a look at the language combinations we work with.