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Image by Adolfo Félix

Linguistic Diversity is in Danger

ONE language Dies  Every Two Weeks

Imagine a person who is the last living speaker of their native tongue. They work persistently to save their language, but a prevailing, more popular language is pushing their language to extinction. When they die, their language will also die and with it, thousands and thousands of years of history, culture, traditions, and stories. We live in a world where linguistic diversity, just like biodiversity, is considerably in danger. Out of the thousands of languages spoken in the world today, only around 200 are spoken by more than a million people. Over 80% of languages are spoken by native peoples who comprise 10% of world population and there are 15% fewer languages today than there were in 1500 AD. Of all languages, 40% are in danger of extinction, and one language dies every two weeks.


The western world has accumulated a negative view of linguistic diversity. In the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, descendants of Noah attempted to build a tower leading to heaven. In response, God sabotaged the common language that enabled them to communicate. This story has convinced many that linguistic diversity is not beneficial to society. Is this view of linguistic diversity valid? As the world becomes more globalized, does the world still need so many languages?  We must continue to preserve language diversity on earth. Languages are specifically adapted to its speakers and environment, language preserves the cultures and traditions of peoples, and a multitude of languages provide different insights and perspectives of the world.

There currently exists over seven thousand distinct languages and 150 language families on earth. The small number of sounds that our vocal organs can make have been combined into an astounding number of languages. Languages encompass differences in vocabulary, grammatical information, structure, and metaphors . Hence, there is no other animal whose communication system varies in form and content as human. However, many languages are in danger. Languages have reached the point of crisis after being displaced by a socially, politically, and economically dominant one such as English or Mandarin. In addition, the rise of globalization and the founding of international bodies has increased the perception of urgency for a singular world language, increasing the threat to linguistic diversity. UNESCO estimates that half of the world’s languages are in danger of disappearing and 96% of languages are spoken by just 4% of the world population.

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