UNESCO General Assembly, 1993:
“Although its exact scope is not yet known, it
is certain that the extinction of languages is
progressing rapidly in many parts of the
world, and it is of the highest importance
that the linguistic profession realize that it
has to step up its descriptive efforts.”
(Crystal:vii) Endangered Language Fund, 1995:
“Languages have died off throughout history, but
never have we faced the massive extinction that is
threatening the world right now. As language
professionals, we are faced with a stark reality:
Much of what we study will not be available to
future generations. The cultural heritage of many
people is crumbling while we look on. Are we
willing to shoulder the blame for having stood by
and done nothing?”
(Crystal: vii) Foundation of Endangered Languages, 1995
“There is agreement among linguists who have
considered the situation that over half of the
world’s languages are moribund, i.e. not
effectively being passed on to the next generation.
We and our children, then, are living at the point
in human history where within perhaps two
generations, most languages in the world will die
(Crystal:viii) • What is language death?
• Which languages are dying?
• Why do languages die? And why now?
• Why is the death of a language important?
• Can anything be done?
• Should anything be done? What is language death?
• A language dies when it fails to be
transmitted to new speakers.
• Concretely, a language dies when the last
speaker dies, (though it usually has become
moribund well before then). • Bruce Connell(in Crystal:1):
• During fieldwork in the Mambila region of
Cameroon’s Adamawa province in 1994-95, I
came across a number of moribund
languages…For one of these languages, Kasabe
….only one remaining speaker, Bogon, was
found….I November 1996 I returned to the
Mambila…to collect further data on Kasabe.
Bogon, however, died on 5th Nov. 1995, taking
Kasabe with him. He is survived a sister, who
reportedly could understand Kasabe but not speak
it, and several children and grandchildren, none of
whom knew the language. • Ole Stig Andersen (in Crystal:2)
• “The West Caucasian language Ubuh…died at
daybreak, October 8th 1992, when the Last
Speaker, Tevfik Esenc, passed away. I happened
to arrive in his village that very same day, without
appointment, to interview this famous Last
Speaker, only to learn that he had died just a
couple of hours earlier. He was buried later the
same day.” Which languages are dying?
• How many languages are at the point of
• How many are endangered?
These are very difficult questions to answer. • First of all, need to establish how many
languages there are alive in the world today.
• Most estimates: 6000-7000
• But estimates have varied between 3000
and 10,000 in recent decades. • Why is this number so hard to come by?
– Until latter half of 20th century, there had been
few surveys of any breadth.
– Surveys that have been done in recent decades
are known to be incomplete. http://www.ethnologue.com/
– The first attempt at a world-wide survey was
undertaken by Ethnologue in 1974 (the result:
– The 13th edition of Ethnologue (1996) cites
6703 languages. The current online version
cites 6902 languages. (Crystal p. 15)
www.notesolution.com • A very small number of languages accounts
for a vast proportion of the world’s
• The 8 languages with over 100 million
speakers have nearly 2.4 billion speakers
• The top 20 languages are spoken by over
half of the world’s population.
• 4% of the world’s languages are spoken by
96% of the population
• 96% of the world’s languages are spoken by
just 4% of the population. • So when considering stats on language
death, this is the context. • More stats:
• A quarter of the world’s languages are
spoken by less than 1000 speakers
• Over half are sp