Based on statistics from the Endangered Languages Program of UNESCO, about 50% of the more than 6,000 languages that are spoken today around the world are likely to disappear by the end of the current century.
Fewer and fewer speakers
There are about 143 native dialects in Mexico right now. Out of this, about 60 to 64 are already at risk of getting extinct. One indigenous language, Kiliwa, only has 36 speakers at the moment. But that is not the worst yet, considering that only two adult males are able to speak Ayapenaco fluently.
There are still 21 other indigenous languages that are already in the list of the critically endangered as there are only a few elderly Mexicans that can speak them, based on the statement put out by the Center of Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) in Mexico.
Most at risk
CIESAS linguist Lourdes de León Pasquel says that the Chatino, Seri and Zapotec languages are the ones that are most at risk right now. She also named several reasons why this is happening. She said that among the various reasons, the main ones are the ideological and economic factors that compel speakers to adopt Spanish as their language, with social instability and migration as the other mitigating factors.
Bridge of human culture
Languages need to be preserved, according to linguist K. David Harrison, co-leader of the Enduring Voices project of the National Geographic.
He said that languages, citing the indigenous languages of Mexico as good examples, contain thousands of years of human experience, including the practical knowledge and wisdom about the natural environment where they existed.
Changes are inevitable
While it is a sad fact that many indigenous languages not only in Mexico but around the world face extinction, there are many factors in the modern world that cannot be stopped. These invariably contribute to the decline in the number of speakers. In Mexico, the dominant language in the workplace is Spanish and it is taught in schools in the country. Thus, they are unlikely to have an interest in speaking their native languages. Modern communication facilities expose people to the dominant languages around the world, which include Spanish, English and Mandarin Chinese.
All is not lost
Although the situation is lamentable, there are several efforts being undertaken around the world to preserve some of the languages. National Geographic partially sponsors a group of linguists in their effort to create a talking dictionary. This is for the Tlacolula Valley’s Zapotec speakers. The Tlacolula Zapotec are eagerly supportive of the project to preserve their language using modern digital tools. They embrace modernity by using smartphones to help in their effort to preserve the Zapotec language.
It may be a long and uphill battle, but with the help of technology, digital tools and modern communication systems, they may slow down the loss of indigenous languages and preserve some of them for future generations.