Endangered languages are the languages that faces extinction as their speakers pass away or switch to another tongue.
These are languages that are about to disappear. When only a few elderly native speakers remain, a language is deemed to be practically extinct.
Linguistic diversity and endangered languages
The preservation of linguistic diversity is a huge issue for the entire world. More than 6,912 languages are spoken worldwide, but it’s possible that half of them could become extinct within the next few decades.
Below is an explanation of the five levels of endangered languages according to the UNESCO:
- vulnerable: the language is generally spoken by kids, yet only in specific contexts (e.g. home);
- definitely endangered: no longer taught as a mother tongue at home;
- severely endangered: the parent generation may comprehend the language, but they do not use it with their children or among themselves;
- critically endangered: the language is partially and occasionally spoken by grandparents and older speakers;
- extinct: speakers are no longer in existence.
5 endangered languages at risk of extinction
The following are some of the most critical cases of endangered languages around the continents:
Hawaiian (critically endangered)
As the US seized control of the Hawaiian islands in 1896 and outlawed its use in schools, the Hawaiian language suffered greatly. Lelo Hawai’i, however, has recently undergone a rebirth.
Almost 18,000 persons in the state of Hawaii speak Hawaiian at home, according to a 2016 government survey. In 2019, NPR reported that 2,000 kids were enrolled in 21 Hawaiian language immersion schools spread across the archipelago.
Yiddish (definitely endangered)
There are a number of Yiddish dialects that vary depending on where they are spoken, and while none of them are endangered, they have all lost speakers during the past 85 years.
Before the start of World War II, there were, according to the Yivo Institute for Jewish Studies, up to 11 million Yiddish speakers. Today, there are only 500,000 to 1 million.
Both European Yiddish and Israeli Yiddish are Probably Endangered languages. Nonetheless, the Eastern and Western Yiddish dialects of the language are according the Endangered Languages Project “at risk” and “vulnerable”, respectively.
Cornish (critically endangered)
Welsh (spoken in Wales) and Breton are near relatives of the pre-Roman Celtic language Cornish, which is spoken in the English county of Cornwall (and also in Brittany, a region of France).
Cornish is a “revived” language: it once had no living native speakers, with the last known fluent speaker having passed away, but has been learned by many in more recent times.
While The Endangered Languages Project classifies Cornish as Awakening, UNESCO classified Cornish as Critically Endangered.
Rikbaktsa (severely endangered)
The Rikbaktsa language is a member of the Macro-Jê linguistic family, which includes other tongues mostly spoken in the Brazilian and Bolivian jungles. The Rikbaktsá are also known with the names “Canoeiros” (Canoe People) and “Orelhas de Pau” (Wooden Ears). Which refer to the enormous wooden plugs that are attached to each of their earlobes.
Over 75% of their population perished between 1957 and 1962 as a result of illnesses, influenza, chickenpox, and smallpox outbreaks brought in by Jesuit missionaries during and after the alleged “pacification” process.
The Rikbaktsá are now bilingual due to the incorporation of Portuguese. The younger generations speak Portuguese more naturally but the elder generations only speak it when they need to interact with foreigners.
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Potawatomi (critically endangered)
In Ontario and the north-central United States, the Potawatomi language is a sophisticated one. Long words and numerous sounds are features of the verb-based language, making it challenging to learn. Less than 10 people still speak Potawatomi as their first language, and the most of them are getting older.
Only those individuals who first learnt Potawatomi at home as a mother tongue and afterwards learned English are part of this limited group. Fortunately, there are still some proficient Potawatomi speakers who teach the language.
Additionally, several Potawatomi tribes offer language classes to everyone, including those who reside far away.
Alor Island in Indonesia is home to the Kamang people, who also go by the names Waisika or Woisika. Historically, the island’s center mountainous region was home to the Kamang people. They wet thorught relocation to coastal areas in the 1970s by Indonesian rulers.
The Kamang culture has slowly vanished after the resettlement. Currently, there is a serious language threat to the Kamang. Children and teenagers often speak the local dialect of Malay, with only the older generation and members of the parent generation speaking the native tongue.
Read also: The most spoken languages worldwide in 2022