5 Hotspots where Languages are Becoming Extinct

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.

23 thoughts on “5 Hotspots where Languages are Becoming Extinct

  1. I don’t believe that the humanity needs all these 7000 languages that prevail today. I think the humanity needs Arabic for it is the real language that is complex enough and could express the human soul’s meanings. In addition to Arabic, there is English which is spread all over the world and can be used for those studies mentioned in the above article. Other than these two languages, I think languages will divide humanity more and will only add barriers between us, the human beings.

  2. This is such a slamming statistic. Languages morph all the time. In 700 years, what the United States and Britain knows of english will be a wholly changed creature (perhaps not so much, considering our ability to document and record). Its just that I’d like to have all of them recorded.

  3. We can always get rid of the Internet.
    I won’t go as far as getting rid of electricity, but getting rid of the internet will help slow this down quite a bit.

  4. Interesting article.

    One part got me though:

    Of the 50 native languages remaining in California, none is taught to schoolchildren today.

    None ARE taught.

  5. “None is taught” is perfectly acceptable, because it means “not one (of the aforesaid languages) is taught.”

  6. Thanks for catching that, Meag. I appreciate it.

    And to Terry, are both Yurok and Tolowa taught in Northern California, like way up near Oregon? I know there aren’t many Tolowa left… but Yurok is big.

    K, the internet won’t be going anytime just because languages are dying out…

  7. Can we also go back to wax candles, or an average life expectancy of 45-50. I remember reading a 1st edition King James Version of the bible I should have said to just look at it. Evolution is a natural process. If that is true then it applies to languages also

  8. I for one am all for these languages dying. Language barriers are just another reason humans hate each other for little reason. I bet if the whole world spoke the same language, there would be less hate and wars.

  9. 1 world + 1 language = badbadbad!

    Think of it in evolutionary terms. Just as a lack of genetic variation in a species makes it more vulnerable to changing climactic and pathogenic environmental conditions, so does a lack of linguistic diversity make humanity more vulnerable and less able to cope.

    In other words, people who speak Mandarin think differently because the language demands a different conceptual framework. They fill in more blanks, because they speak and write more imprecisely in some ways. Japanese speakers extrapolate like gangbusters because the language depends so heavily on context.

    That very diversity in thought can produce amazing synergistic results, especially when cultures exchange ideas.

    One language means a horrible reduction in humanity’s collective ability to figure stuff out, to be creative, and more importantly, the death of so much beauty, so much of what makes the world interesting, it could never be worth it.

  10. chris – right, that’s clearly why there has never, ever been a civil war in the history of the world.

    Does anyone know of current research being done on emergent languages? Even if physical barriers to language/culture groups have broken down due to globalization, new communities (cf. B. Anderson) exist in all sorts of forms and languages invariable evolve from there (e.g. chatroom speak or, regrettably, lolcat speak)

  11. I don’t necessarily see this as a problem. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all spoke the same language?

  12. …. of course, on first glance this struck me as well. I sort of have a “live experience” with a language that goes extinct, as I was raised in northern Germany where a dialect/language is spoken that is called “flat german”. Pronunciation and dicition are related to English.
    I can speak it but do not often do so, because only the generation 50+ (i.e. my grandparents) seem to actually speak it.
    While this will only be of minor impact, I presume that most languages go extinct because of people being forced to learn official languages whilst their own ones are being treated as “minor” – which I think is terrible.

    This is a social and a political problem.

    On the other hand, there is no count of languages that actually evolve day by day. The “established” languages such as English, French, German themselves change a lot as new expressions are adopted.
    Net slang – though often smiled upon as inferior – will become of greater importance, as will “localized” peer-group related expressions (“Hip Hop”).

    Though the number of “proper” languages will decrease, there is a lot of diversity around – which still lets me be optimistic.

    Because, I am one with Voidgazing here – one language would take a lot of beauty and of what makes this world interesting out of this world.

    (this text would have been stylisticially different if written in German…)

  13. sad to hear languages r fast disappearingfrom our earth.hearing a multitude of languages is like hearing a
    symphony.one language is a solo.u can`t bear with it for long.

  14. Having one language would aid in unifying the peoples of the world, make business and social interaction easier, add to world prosperity. People who speak only the little, local languages would gain the opportunity to join a larger economy and prosper. “Few speakers of endangered languages consider it a good thing that their indigenous language might be lost, although many consider that switching to a majority language is likely to alleviate social stigma and increase economic opportunities.” How can you keep them down on the farm, living in a mud hut, bathing in the stream from which they draw drinking water, speaking in a series of clucks, whistles and chirps, once they learn English? It is the Libs who love “diversity” who want to keep speakers of small, local languages out of the meanstream where prosperity may be achieved.

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