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Most people know about endangered plants and animals. However, not everyone is aware of the extent to which many languages are in danger of extinction. Currently, there are almost 500 languages that are officially endangered.
According to statistics, 95 percent of the world’s population only speak six percent of the existing 7,000 languages. This means that only six percent speak all the other languages. Some languages have fewer than a dozen speakers. There are several reasons why languages become extinct.
A key reason is the influence of the dominant languages. Generally, dominant languages are associated with higher social status and education. People who move to urban areas are forced to learn the dominant language.
In most cases, the children do not learn their native language. In addition, many rural communities give up their linguistic heritage in an attempt to assimilate into mainstream culture. For example, India has lost 220 of 780 languages in the last 50 years. Once Hindi was recognized as the official language of India, the number of Hindi speakers increased from 260 million to over 420 million.
Another reason languages may cease to exist is that the people who speak an endangered language may be in physical danger, such as from war or genocide. Many languages of the indigenous people in the Americas are either extinct or endangered for this very reason. Natural disasters and disease can also wipe out entire populations.
When the people in a village of Papua New Guinea were hit by a devastating earthquake, all were wiped out. The language they spoke, Malol, was wiped out with them. Languages represent cultures and show diversity.
Losing a language equates to losing all cultural references expressed through linguistic means. The broader global community suffers because of the diminishing cultural and linguistic diversity. Therefore, efforts need to be made to preserve and revive endangered languages before they disappear forever.
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