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Why Do Languages Die and How to Stop It

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Have you ever wondered, why do languages die? It seems like with so many people in the world, languages are supposed to increase in quantity, not become endangered and die out. There are millions of communities out there who keep passing their legacy to future generations, making sure that their culture never disappears. But as reality has it, things are different. There are certainly minorities who feel passionate about keeping their languages alive, acting protective, and devoted to them. But others choose to forget where they come from, adapting to new lives in new places, and accepting everything it entails. So how does it happen and could we stop this trend from destroying the world as we know it, freezing its cultural heritage in its current form?

What Is a Disappearing Language?

A surprising number of languages face the threat of extinction. The geography of it varies, and you can find communities that are struggling to hold onto their identities on every continent, be that close to such giants as the USA, Germany, India, China, or to regions few people have heard about. But what is the endangered language definition? It’s simple: this is a language that faces extermination because the number of people speaking it drops on a steady basis, and the efforts to preserve it are either minimal or non-existent.

At this moment, there are more than 6000 languages spoken worldwide. An impressive number, isn’t it? But the alarming truth is, more than three billion people speak only one of 20 major languages. That’s it — the remaining ones in this list are rare, and some of them have as little as around 1000 remaining native speakers. According to the conducted research, about 45% of all world languages are endangered, and many individuals believe that this fact paints a bleak picture of the future where English, German, Russian, and Chinese dominate the global arena, with other cultures dwindling into nothing.

Common Reasons Explaining Why Languages Die

Knowing there is a trend is one thing, but understanding the reasons for it is something else entirely. Where does language endangerment come from? How can an entire ethnicity face an extinction threat when people keep giving birth to children and teach them their mother tongue? Let’s observe 5 main reasons that could shed some light on this problem.

Natural disasters

Huge slices of populations are wiped out as a result of disasters like tsunami, pandemic, earthquake, etc. Sometimes the entire nations decrease to small groups fighting for their survival. As an example, a few decades ago, a deadly tsunami near Papua New Guinea destroyed an indigenous language of several communities, with the survivors scattering around the world and getting lost in there. Several largest Chinese and Indian earthquakes took the lives of so many people that their distinct dialects died with them. Many currently dead nations grew extinct after the terrifying plagues hunting their countries, eliminating their mother tongues entirely. Famine is also dangerous, and since it targets specific regions, people take their languages to their graves.

Social status

The abstract ideas of prestige often show how languages die, down to every painful detail. This problem mostly comes from minority peoples in poor regions who are ashamed of their origins. They want their children to have a better life and to succeed, avoiding encounters with racism, intolerance, etc. They don’t want to limit them to one small culture, so they cultivate the studying of something like English, sometimes refusing to ever speak their mother tongue in the presence of their families. There are many instances of individuals refusing to acknowledge that being bilingual is possible and choosing popular languages over their native ones.

Modernization

While some languages are preserved, they don’t exist in the form they used to. Their structure and at times even their essence keep undergoing major transformations, so what we speak now barely resembles what our ancestors spoke before. In this long process, many languages cease to exist. They are combined, changed, twisted, and modernized in other ways.

Insufficiency

Some languages keep disappearing because they simply don’t have a sufficient number of speakers. This could be caused by various reasons, including the aforementioned ones. Some people stubbornly cling to survival and try to protect their mother tongues, but it doesn’t always end with success. Fewer and fewer groups speak a particular endangered language, and eventually and often inevitably, it dries out completely.

Political reasons

The sociolinguistics branch vividly demonstrates how disastrous the impact of colonization has been on many cultures. It is one of the saddest causes of language extinction. People were forced to adapt to a new world or risk dying, losing every nuance of their previous lives and cultures. Many were hunted down and destroyed. The loss of so many indigenous populations resulted in the destruction of their cultures to nothing, so now we can only speculate what they spoke and when. The rare survivors that escaped didn’t have time or strength to spread their language anew.

Examples of Dying Languages

You might want to learn about actual examples of languages that are going extinct. Let’s regard three of them, along with their description and statistics on the native speakers.

Krymchak

This is a Turkic language spoken in Crimea, a region of Russia. Jewish immigrants comprised a big part of the community of speakers, and for a while, it blossomed. But during WW2, more than 70% of them were murdered, so the language rapidly became endangered. The process didn’t improve with time, and in 2007, only 200 hundred people speaking it were left. Though it seems they have been trying to preserve their language hard, it didn’t have any significant results.

Sami

This is a group of languages that are spoken in Northern Europe. There are about nine remaining languages in the group itself; more than that, Sami carries an official status in Norway. But despite this fact, it keeps dying out, and by 2013, only 30 000 speakers have been left. For the most part, they are old people who no longer share their knowledge with younger members of their families. Sami mostly features old songs or traditional texts, but it’s rarely used as a spoken language itself.

Irish Gaelic

It comes from a Celtic linguistic family and has been spoken by the Irish community for many years. Approximately 40000 speakers remain, but unfortunately, their number is still inevitably decreasing. Irish Gaelic remains among the endangered languages despite the attempts of the government to make it flourish again because people mostly choose to speak English, considering Irish as something more or less irrelevant in the modern world.

Consequences of Dying Languages

The loss of a language is accompanied by a set of negative consequences. For one thing, an entire culture is being demolished, with relevant reminders of its existence being dissolved as if they never existed. The heritage of thousands of people disappears, so their history and a sense of origins are being slowly forgotten. As a language dies, its historical artifacts become more and more distant, and with time, people stop being able to translate and understand what they mean. The same principle applies to literature, paintings, and other forms of art or science.

A person with an academic interest in such languages loses a chance to find out more about learning them. For example, you can easily find a Chinese translation company if you need help in this area — such services are present almost in every country. There are hundreds of Spanish translation companies always ready to assist their clients. But to find someone specializing in Krymchak or any of the extinct languages? This is next to impossible, a fact that hinders research and makes the studying of history much more complicated. As a language and culture go down, traditions, values, and beliefs disappear as well, making the entire population’s risk being forgotten.

Preserving an Endangered Language: What Does It Take?

It is possible to preserve a language facing extinction, although it takes dedication, passion, and many efforts. You could always donate to organizations that work hard to increase the number of speakers. The Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages is one of the examples. You could also assist Our Golden Hour — this might be a small but a sure way to contribute to a certain language preservation. In addition, you could always be proactive yourself. Volunteer to be a teacher of a dying language. Offer your services to location independent businesses that need a good translator and make posts since it could draw attention to your chosen language, with more people growing curious about it, particularly if it’s something they’ve never encountered before. Promote it heavily among your own family, friends, and other people. Create a blog and keep promoting it there, pointing out all beautiful things it’s connected with, posting pictures, telling stories, and encouraging others to fight for saving this language as well.

Our Future Prospects

So, what should we expect from the future? Despite there being more than 6000 languages, most of them are spoken very rarely. English and Chinese continue to be dominant — but at the same time, it doesn’t mean that we are doomed to forget our legacy. The efforts to preserve dying languages keep being undertaken, with more people joining in. Reach out for more native speakers and explain why they should keep teaching their children a specific language. Sign petitions and ask universities to include it into a program with perks for students who agree to study it. It doesn’t mean you’ll succeed for sure — some languages will never be revived properly, and this is something you should be prepared for. That’s life. Still, don’t just ask, why are languages dying? Try to do something about it!