There are a lot of languages that are on the verge of extinction. Thus, serious efforts toward preserving endangered languages must be carried out. According to recorded data, there are over 6,000 languages all over the world, and half of this figure has below 10,000 speakers. 417 of these languages are considered endangered. This means that the languages only have a few native speakers left. There are even some languages with only one person left alive fluently speaking the language.
Reasons Behind Language Endangerment
There are a lot of reasons why languages become endangered. One of the most common reasons is the failure of the elders to teach the language to the younger generation. The young ones may have also been exposed to other communities where there is a different lingua franca. In other cases, native speakers feel like their language is inferior compared to that of another. Thus, they end up using another language instead of their own. A lot of these languages come from tribal and ethnic groups. The moment tribe members start to embrace modern civilization, they end up abandoning their old ways and that could potentially include their language.
Classifying an Endangered Language
There are 2 main criteria used in classifying a language. First is the number and age of current speakers. Another criterion is the ability of the youngest generations to be fluent in speaking the language. For instance, many Indonesian languages have thousands of speakers left. However, the population is composed mostly of elder people, and so it is on the verge of extinction. On the other hand, some languages only have a few hundred speakers left, but are mostly young. The language is also considered “alive” and well- spoken in the community. Thus, it is not considered endangered. The Hawaiian language is an example. It only has over 1,000 speakers left. However, it has a school where the knowledge of the language is passed on.
Endangered languages can be classified as vulnerable, definitely endangered, severely endangered and critically endangered. The last one is the most severe as only the grandparents are left speaking the language fluently. In Indonesia, there are a lot of critically endangered languages with less than 10 speakers left. This includes the Mapia and Tandia languages of Papua and the Hukumina of Maluku. The famous Jeju Island in South Korea uses the Jeju language, with only an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 speakers left.
Efforts in Preserving an Endangered Language
There are a lot of ways to preserve a language. Many organizations are also involved in this endeavor. This includes the Committee on Endangered Languages Preservation (CELP) and Endangered Languages Project. Here are some of the techniques being used:
• Encouraging the younger generation to learn the language. Their progress is being tracked. However, this is usually met with failure due to the lack of interest. They also prefer learning languages spoken by most of their peers.
• Using the Internet as a repository of the language. It is used to catalog, store and translate the language. New technologies are also in place for storing languages easily and have them translated for everyone who is interested to learn.
• Writing the recorded words on a piece of paper after doing research and interview. Language experts try their best to communicate with the native speakers and record as many words as possible.
• Video recording the native speakers while talking. This almost guarantees that the language is preserved since the recording can just be stored online for everyone to see. The problem is that not all words can be communicated well on the actual footage.
• Encouraging universities to open degree programs or special courses for learning endangered languages. Universities are also used to raise awareness amongst students and in the local community. They are also encouraged to provide funding to language experts who are interested in conducting a research or preservation efforts for a specific endangered language.
Preserving a language is important since it embodies the culture and tradition of a particular group of people. When it dies, culture and oral traditions might also die with it.