How to Care About Endangered Languages

Language biodiversity is as important an element in the web of life as animal and plant biodiversity. As of 2012, there are seven thousand languages spoken around the world. However, there is an average of one language dying every fourteen days.

Language is the lens through which human beings see the world. Languages encode human perspective, culture, and knowledge, providing profound insights into local lands, plants, animals, and ecosystems as well as human stories, songs, and histories---many still yet to be studied by science.

This article is for all mankind on how to value all languages, both great and small. When a language dies, human beings loose yet another book in available to us in our infinite library of knowledge.


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    Ask yourself what your mother tongue means to you. Whether the language you were brought up speaking is English, Japanese, Cherokee, or Chulym, it has value to you. It is how you see your world and it is what you are most comfortable using.
    • While you contemplate that, imagine yourself in a situation where you and one other person are the only two people left in the world who speak your mother tongue. How would would you feel? Would you defend it? Protect it? What would the world lose when they lose the language you live and breathe?
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    Treat all languages as equal. No one language is more or less important than any other.
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    Treat all cultures and people as equal. No one person or culture is more or less important than any other. We all have a message and something to bring the world.
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    Read as much as you can about language communities, both thriving and dying. You have to know about language communities and why languages are fading from the planet. You also have to learn about what languages contain and why they are worth preserving. A few Joe Average friendly book suggestions include:
    • Trip of the Tongue: Cross Country Travels In Search of America's Languages, by Elizabeth Little.
    • The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World's Most Endangered Languages, by K. David Harrison.
    • Bastard Tongues: A Trailblazing Linguist Finds Clues to Our Common Humanity in the World's Lowliest Languages, by Derek Bickerton.
    • Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages, by Mark Abley.
    • The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English, by Mark Abley.
    • Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books, by Aaron Lansky.
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    Support the learning of foreign languages. English is not the only language spoken in the world. Get yourself and others to dabble in at least one foreign language, be it French or Farsi or Navajo. You don't have to be fluent, but you need to open your mind to how other human beings view the world through their languages.
    • If you're up for the language, teach yourself or study an endangered language. The more speakers there are, the healthier the language will be!
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    Continue speaking your own language. This applies to all people regardless of where they live, but is especially important for those whose language is in a minority position. You have to continue speaking your language in the face of others who think and tell you otherwise. Languages carry your past, your present, and your future, and is an invaluable gift to give your children and those who listen to you. All languages have value.


  • Learn what a language hotspot is. Language hotspots are concentrated regions of the world with a high number of indigenous languages spoken. These areas are often where linguistic anthropologists focus there attention because many hold languages with as few as one living speaker left as well as languages that have yet to be documented.
  • You don't need a linguistics degree to care about languages. All you have to do is read, ask questions, and teach yourself information in ways that work for you.

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Categories: World Languages