Language means so much more than communication between people – it represents culture, history, tradition and identity. According to UNESCO, there are more than 6000 languages in the world today. A startling fact is that about 97% of the world speaks just 4% of these languages, including languages such as English, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Indonesian and Arabic. Only 3% of the population speaks the remaining 96% of the languages, many of which are indigenous languages.
Around 600 languages have already disappeared in the last century, and experts estimate that others will continue to disappear at a rate of one language every two weeks. If this trend continues, up to 90% of the world’s languages are likely to disappear before the end of the century. Why is this happening and what can we do about it?
Linguicide: Losing Languages and the Impacts
When no human knows a language any longer, it’s called linguicide, or language death. There are many reasons for linguicide, including:
- Many indigenous people worldwide have stopped passing on their ancestral languages to the next generation because the next generation has adopted the language of the majority of the culture. The next generation is not interested in learning the ancestral language and may feel disconnected to their native community and its traditions.
- A community may feel pressure to integrate into a larger culture, whether by law or by cultural pressure.
- Schools teach only the larger cultural language, so kids aren’t learning any other language in the educational system.
- Some languages are only spoken, with nothing written down to preserve them.
- Over time historically, genocide has led to linguicide.
- Many communities are faced with poverty, illiteracy and human rights violations, so preserving a language isn’t a priority.
The impacts of linguicide to a community and civilization in general include:
- Communities lose their identity and spirituality. It can be common in indigenous languages to transfer history and culture from generation to generation orally in the form of dances, community ceremonies and prayers, and this knowledge oftentimes isn’t found anywhere else.
- A loss of cultural and traditional knowledge of science, including biology, medicine, flora, fauna, ecosystems and local names of places.
- A limit to what linguists can learn about human cognition through the study of languages.
Without a concerted effort to teach the next generation of children with laws protecting the right to teach, a language may fall prey to linguicide.
Doing Our Part
Language as a key component of culture which is especially true for indigenous communities who pass most of their ancestral history and knowledge to younger generations orally.
We acknowledge and mourn the implications of the tragic loss of languages that is undeniably detrimental to these communities. As a part of the preservation process, we are honored to be one of the few language service companies equipped to provide translations of indigenous and rare languages
If you need help with translations of indigenous or other languages, please contact us at 860-362-0812. We look forward to helping you with your document translation needs.
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