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The Need to Save the Dying Languages

The Need to Save the Dying Languages
on December, 31 2014

Image credit: No Parking traffic sign taken by Uyvsdi under Public domain.

There are more things that make up a language than just being a means to communicate that is why there is a need to save the dying languages. It is an established fact that a language with very few speakers is on the verge of dying and once the last known speaker of a language passes away, the language will also be lost.

There are many efforts to conserve some of the dying languages and there are successes in some and failures in others. It is fascinating to learn the different reasons why saving languages is needed and why it is an important task.


Tom Belt grew up in Oklahoma and he only spoke Cherokee until he encountered English when he started kindergarten. After college he found himself going from place to place because of the rodeo circuit. Somehow he ended up in North Carolina where he married a woman he met while in school. She told him that he was the youngest Cherokee speaker that she has ever met. His wife, despite being a Cherokee does not speak the language. Tom Belt realized that he was a minority within his native community.

Most the speakers of Cherokee are now concentrated in the Eastern Band in the historic homeland of Cherokee, the tribe where Belt's wife belongs. The younger generation are no longer speaking or learning the language. But the community is quietly doing all they can to preserve their language.

Some of the dying languages

Cherokee in not the only threatened language. Over the past 100 years, about 400 languages have gotten extinct. By the end of this century, linguists are predicting that about 50 percent of the 6,500 remaining languages in the world will be extinct. Other predictions state that the percentage could even go as high as 90 percent. Perhaps this is due to the undeniable fact that there are only about 10 languages that are spoken by the world population. Would it still be possible to have language diversity? Will a monolingual society exist in the very new future?

At the very least there are some 100 languages that only have a handful of speakers today and the fewer the speakers, the more difficult it is to find them, according to Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages co-founder David Harrison, who is also the chair of Swarthmore College Linguistics Department.

The last Eyak language speaker, Marie Smith Jones of Alaska passed away in 2008. There are two speakers of Ayapaneco, a pre-Columbian Mexican language but they refused to talk to one another for several years. Likewise, a native speaker who lacks practice will soon find himself or herself struggling with the language.

Reasons for preservation

Does preserving a dying language really matter? Some people think that language loss is a fact of life as people continue to evolve. Some argue that we protect biodiversity and various species, so how come language, which identifies us as humans, should not be preserved in the same way?

A language is a conduit of human heritage, since many of the poems, stories and songs of a community only exist in oral form. Language show the uniqueness of each culture. Take Cherokee for example. They do not have a word for "goodbye." They only say "I will see you again." They do not have a phrase for "I'm sorry" but have a phrase for the utter delight you feel when seeing a cute and adorable kitten or a baby: "oo-kah-huh-sdee." Like Cherokee, an ancient language provides people today with a wealth of wisdom.

For example the Cherokees lived in the mountains and they have a word for everything they see in the place they have inhabited for centuries. Not only that, the names also indicate whether the things are medicinal, poisonous or edible.

Languages interpret the world, which give insight to linguistic capabilities, psychology and neurology of the human species. They provide clear-cut frameworks and thought pathways for thinking and problem solving.

Thus, if these languages are properly documented today, they can be revived in the future.

Day Translations Team

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