Our century might turn out to be one of large loss in linguistic diversity. Researchers believe that of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, only half will probably make it to the end of the 21th century. So why does this matter? Languages are alive. That is why they can die. Languages evolve and revolutionize themselves. They are the form in which we think about the world. Therefore, losing a language means losing a world view.
There is also a lot of knowledge which is lost when a language is dying out. The Biodiversity Indicators Partnership writes: “As languages go extinct, there is an irrecoverable loss of unique cultural, historical and ecological knowledge. Local and indigenous communities have elaborated complex classification systems for the natural world, reflecting a deep understanding of local flora, fauna, ecological relations and ecosystem dynamics.”
A very sad story is the one of Ayapanesco, an acient language spoken in Mexico. According to an article by the Guardian, there are only two people left who speak it fluently. The problem is, they refuse to speak to each other. “It is not clear whether there is a long-buried argument behind their mutual avoidance, but people who know them say they have never really enjoyed each other’s company.”
Do you know where most of the remaining 7,000 languages are spoken? The Pacific area is the undoubted winner of that competition. Papua New Guinea alone offers 841 languages of which according to Ethnologue 830 have people actually speaking it. If you would like to know how many languages are spoken within your country, check out the list by the Ethnologue, you might be surprised about your findings! Languages are rather unevently distributed on our planet. “Some 250 languages in total are spoken by 97% of the world’s people, while the remainder are spoken by around 3% of the global population,” says the bip. You can find out more about Ethnologue, the language database in this article by the New York Times.