30 of the world's most endangered languages
Combating climate change is a Herculean task, but one that can't be ignored if life on earth is to be preserved for future generations. Linguists currently face a similar challenge: Without human intervention, experts estimate that nearly half the world's 6,800 spoken languages will go the way of the dinosaurs, vanishing by the close of the 21st century.
In response to this crisis, armies of academics, independent researchers, and charitable organizations like Wikitongues have pledged to save the world's vanishing vernaculars, searching out the last living speakers and documenting their every word. The most vulnerable of these are termed “critically endangered,” meaning they are familiar only to the most elderly members of a particular population, and may not be spoken fluently or regularly.
Starting with this definition and the “UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger,” Stacker has scoured newspapers and magazine articles, academic journals, and online databases to compile this list of 30 of the world's most endangered languages.
Read on to find out if your ancestor's native tongue—or maybe even your own—will survive.
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One of five Samoyed languages native to Siberia and the Arctic, Forest Enets is spoken by fewer than 15 people—mostly reindeer herders and fishermen from the tiny Russian village of Potapovo. This endangered, indigenous tongue may just survive thanks to recent preservation efforts, including the creation of a “language nest” immersion kindergarten and easily accessible instructive videos.
Bathari is a Semitic language of south Arabic origin. At present, it is spoken by fewer than 20 people in a small fishing community on the southwest coast of Oman. Economic and educational opportunities available to Arabic speakers have led the younger generation to abandon their native tongue. Recently, the London Middle East Institute has made significant efforts to document Bathari, collecting more than 2,000 recordings of elderly native speakers.
Despite the presence of bilingual signs in local stores and language instruction in some local schools, Boruca is a rapidly disappearing tongue. Today there are fewer than 20 native speakers, all elderly, living in the Puntarenas Province on Costa Rica's Pacific coast.
Like a Phoenix from the ashes, this ancient tongue has risen from the dead. Dolly Pentreath, thought to be the last native speaker, died at the close of the 18th century. Thanks to the broad revival of Celtic culture in the early 20th century, more than 500 residents of Britain's southwestern county identified Cornish as their primary language in the 2011 census. Cornish is taught in local schools, and can also be heard on BBC Radio Cornwall.
This dialect of Gagauz is spoken by fewer than 100 people, mostly elderly, in the Deliorman region of Bulgaria. An ethnically Turkish people, the Gagauz roamed what is now Eastern Europe, settling in present-day Moldova, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. Unlike its Moldovan cousin, which has enjoyed a revival in the independent province of Gagauzia, there exists no similar movement in Bulgaria and as a result, Balkan Gagauz risks extinction in the coming decades. Recordings of the language are available on YouTube.
Originally spoken in Asia Minor, and subsequently, by Greeks of Cappadocian origin, this medieval dialect was thought to have vanished by the mid-20th century. However, in 2005, Professor Mark Janse of the University of Ghent uncovered a cluster of approximately 200 Cappadocian speakers in isolated communities on the Greek mainland. The award-winning documentary, “Last Words,” chronicles Janse's discovery. Cambridge University academic Ioanna Sitaridou also recorded her conversations with native speakers.
Native speakers of this rapidly disappearing language originally hail from a pocket of Germanic immigrants in Slovenia, and were subsequently scattered across the globe after World War II. Although a thriving community of Gottscheer and their descendants settled in Queens, N.Y., fewer than 100 people are estimated to speak Gottscheerish fluently. Efforts are being made to preserve the dialect, like this video recording of a conversation between two native speakers.
More than 10 million ethnic Manchurians live in China, yet fewer than 20 elderly villagers in the northeastern part of the country can speak Manchu. Manchurian emperors reigned over China for almost 300 years, going to great lengths to preserve their ethnic identity. The fall of the dynasty in 1911, resulted in the acculturation of the Manchurian people, who increasingly adopted Chinese languages and customs. With only one local elementary school offering limited lessons in the language, scholars are not optimistic about Manchu's survival. The 2012 video documentary “The Last Emperor” features interviews with Manchu speakers.
In 1992, Swedish academic Éva Csató Johanson discovered a population of approximately 60 Karaim speakers living in the Lithuanian town of Trakai. Previously thought to have been extinct, Karaim is a Turkic language with Hebrew influences traditionally known as “lashon kedar”—“language of the nomads.” In her efforts to preserve the language, Johanson spoke only Karain with her subjects. Karaim is now taught both in summer schools and also at the University of Uppsala. A channel dedicated to Karaim folksongs is available on YouTube.
The tropical paradise of Hawaii boasts a particularly mellifluous native tongue. With fewer than a thousand fluent speakers, however, Hawaiian is a critically endangered language. After American annexation, the Hawaiian language was banned in the island's schools for 90 years. By the 1980s, few people could speak the language, prompting the establishment of Hawaiian immersion pre-schools, to help preserve the tongue for future generations. Duolingo, a free app available for both iOS and Android may just change that. Additionally, the language learning app Drops has recently added Hawaiian to their list of offerings.2018 All rights reserved.