There are around 7000 languages spoken in the world today; however, this number is due to fall by as much as 50% at the turn of the century. This means that on average one language will disappear from existence every 14 days, a startling statistic! With seven billion people around the world and 7,000 languages it would be nice if there were one million speakers per language; unfortunately life doesn’t work like that. Amazingly around 80% of the world’s population speak just 85 languages and a quarter of the world’s population natively speak just 4 of the world’s languages which are Mandarin, English, Spanish and Hindi.
What’s becoming clear in the modern world is that due to globalisation families strive to teach their young the most relevant language which can bring them success in life and who can blame them? Parents in towns, villages and cities across the world often teach their children the skills they will need for the future, not the past; knowledge of a ubiquitous language will help the child thrive in education, business and hopefully happiness.
Languages originating from Asia or Africa may be at most risk, with 33% of the worlds current languages originating from Asia and 30% from Africa compared to just 3% from Europe. In our blog last week we examined how Indonesia currently has 146 languages listed on UNESCO’s endangered list, only 88 languages fewer than the whole of Europe.
As languages see a decline in the number of their speakers, will knowledge perhaps not yet translated be lost with the language too? Unfortunately the decline of languages may be a natural occurrence within the modern world we live in today, but the knowledge contained in these endangered languages should be examined before it’s too late and the details of the written word and spoken language recorded. One thing is for sure; the last speaker of a dying language lives in almost unspeakable isolation.
When writing this blog yesterday I was unaware Google would be launching a philanthropic effort to save these languages today. You can explore Google’s strategy to monitor and record endangered languages here http://www.endangeredlanguages.com/.