A language dies every two weeks
Associated Press
Sept. 19, 2007


And with it goes eons of human experience

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/201986

When every known speaker of the Amurdag language gets together, there's still no one to talk to.

Native Australian Charlie Mangulda is the only person alive known to speak that language, one of thousands around the world on the brink of extinction.

From rural Australia to Siberia to Oklahoma, languages that embody the history and traditions of people are dying, researchers said Tuesday.

Although an estimated 7,000 languages are spoken around the world today, one of them dies out about every two weeks, according to linguistic experts.

Five hot spots in which languages are most endangered were listed Tuesday in a briefing by the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages and the National Geographic Society.

Losing languages means losing knowledge, said K. David Harrison, an assistant professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College.

"When we lose a language, we lose centuries of human thinking about time, seasons, sea creatures, reindeer, edible flowers, mathematics, landscapes, myths, music, the unknown and the everyday."

As many as half the current languages have never been written down, he estimated.

That means, if the last speaker of many of these vanished tomorrow, the language would be lost because there is no dictionary, no literature, no text of any kind, he said.

Harrison is associate director of the Living Tongues Institute based in Salem, Ore.

He and institute Director Gregory D.S. Anderson analyzed the top regions for disappearing languages.

Anderson said languages become endangered when a community decides that its language is an impediment. The children may be first to do this.

The key to getting a language revitalized, he said, is getting a new generation of speakers.

He said the institute tries to help by developing teaching materials and by recording the endangered language.

Harrison said the 83 most widely spoken languages account for about 80 percent of the world's population, whereas the 3,500 smallest languages account for just 0.2 percent of the world's people.

On the Net: www.languagehotspots.org