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According to the the New York Times and National Geographic, there is an alarming report on the rate of extinction of languages,

“Every 14 days a language dies. By 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth—many of them never yet recorded—will likely disappear, taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and how the human brain works.”

The news is all base off of research conducted by the National Geographic Society and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. David Harrison and David Anderson lead the project. What they found are five hotspots where languages are vanishing faster than other regions.

  • Northern Australia
  • Central South America
  • North America’s upper Pacific coastal zone
  • Eastern Siberia
  • Oklahoma and the southwestern United States

The map to below better documents the hotspots and you can explore the interactive map by clicking it to goto languagehotspots.org.

Language Hotspots

Here are some interesting facts:

  • In the last 500 years, an estimated half of the world’s languages, from Etruscan to Tasmanian, have become extinct.
  • More than 500 languages may be spoken by fewer than ten people.
  • Of the 50 native languages remaining in California, none is taught to schoolchildren today.

Also there is an interesting video clip of Anderson and Harrison’s work, where they find the only known speaker of a language long thought to be extinct. The video will air in its entirity on PBS’ “Wild Chronicles.”

For linguistic anthropology, the study of human languages throughout time and place, this news is devastating. The quote above, the one which talks about the wealth of knowledge on human history and culture locked away in the languages around the world barely captures the severity of this situation. As the world becomes more globalized, and more cultures become assimilated and this seems like an inevitable consequence.