The World’s Languages are Dying
If you think language makes you human, then take note. Although there are currently about 7,000 languages spoken on our planet, this number is projected to fall to less than half that number by 2100. That means that every 14 days a language is lost. Each time this happens, we lose a unique source of knowledge about the history, culture, environment and natural resources of a specific group of people. The tragedy is that when languages die this way, we are not fully aware of what has been lost. We do not know what insights lost languages could have given us on our quest to live in greater balance with mother earth. We do not know what creation stories or historical knowledge has been lost. While globalization and economic development have brought greater prosperity to many parts of the world, the rate of language death has also increased dramatically. Just as we need to devote time and energy to save the plants and animals that are unique to our earth, we should work towards preserving our uniquely human way of describing and understanding ourselves through language.
Why This Matters
Why should this matter to the rest of us, many of who speak major languages such as English, Chinese, Spanish or Hindi? While all humans have the same physical structure and vocal tract for producing speech, our languages are diverse and reflect a wide array of cultural and social influences. Many of the things that humans know about the environment are encoded only in spoken language. Indigenous peoples that have lived in harmony with the natural world for thousands of years have profound knowledge of the local land, plants, animals, and ecosystems – a fact that is reflected in their languages. While mainstream science may not yet have documented the animals or plants that traditional cultures interact with, their use and value are well known to local peoples. This is especially true for plant species that have medicinal uses. The traditional ways of being and doing which will become vital for our future are found in their purest form in the traditional languages of these cultures. If the languages that express this knowledge die, we will lose part of ourselves.
How You Can Help
There are many ways to help prevent language loss. The first to keep speaking your mother language – and teach your children! If you speak an endangered language, encourage others in your community to keep speaking it, and to record and preserve traditional knowledge for future generations. If you don’t speak an endangered language but want to help, learn more about the work that is being done to accurately document these languages in written, audio, and video format. An excellent resource is the Enduring Voices language project from National Geographic: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/enduring-voices/
You can also view the YouTube channel with videos of endangered languages from Africa, Papa New Guinea, South and Central America, and Siberia: Youtube Enduring Voices
If you wish to donate to organizations that fund linguistic studies of these languages, there are several resources available. The Endangered Language Fund awards grants to linguists so that they may travel to locations across the globe and work with speakers of dying languages: www.endangeredlanguagefund.org
The Summer Institute of Linguistics also has a page with links on language vitality, the current most endangered languages in the world, and other helpful resources: www.sil.org/sociolx/ndg-lg-home.html
Finally, the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project accepts donations to help endangered language communities to research and develop language materials, provide scholarships for indigenous researchers, and publish language support materials for specific endangered languages. A link to the website is here: www.hrelp.org/languages/help/
by The Great Gathering
Copyright The Great Gathering 2014©