There are approximately 7000 spoken languages in our world today. However, it is unfortunate that over half of these are, in fact, endangered languages and will not be able to survive for much longer. Languages such as English, Spanish, Chinese and Arabic are becoming increasingly globalised, resulting into the tragedy of endangering local, tribal and community languages.
A particularly sour thought is that every so often, the last living speaker of a language dies. For example, Edwin Benson, whose tribal name is Ma-doke-wa-des-she, died in 2016 and was the last living speaker of the Mandan language. In the same year, the world also lost Doris Jean Lamar McLemore, the last fluent speaker of the Wichita language.
The Efforts Of Language Activists
It is imperative to stress that there are multiple widespread benefits to globalisation. Despite this, we must not deny the inevitable effect that it is having on hundreds of minor languages around the globe. As such, we must recognise the urgent need to protect and save endangered languages. Fortunately, such an endeavour can be accomplished by language activists. With the tools and technology at our disposal today, professional linguists are able to document endangered languages so that their presence is ingrained into history. So, albeit the notion that such languages may no longer be spoken in the future, at least there will be documentation of their very real existence.
A noteworthy example is The Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. They are a non-profit organisation whose mission is to preserve rare languages and ensure their survival for generations to come. Researchers at Living Tongues actively document endangered languages along with cultural practices. They publish studies and work with communities to create resources and living dictionaries that will, hopefully, trigger the revitalisation of their language. (Read more about Living Tongues: https://livingtongues.org/)
Similarly, Verdena Parker, the last fluent speaker of the Hupa language, has worked with Stanford and Berkley scholars to document her language. She also collaborated with many high schools and offered immersion classes and programmes which were positively received! Additionally, Cristina Calderon is the last living full-blooded Yaghan person and speaker of the Yaghan language. She took matters into her own hands by publishing a book of Yaghan tales entitled ‘Hai Kur Mamashu Shis’ (‘I want to tell you a story’). Like many other activists, both Verdena and Cristina are eager to pass on the remnants of their cultures and languages.
So there you have it, a brief overview of the fragile state of endangered languages today. Are you a language activist? And if so, what measures would like to implement in order to save endangered languages?