By Tom Colls - BBC - 19 Oct. 2009
An estimated 7,000 languages are being spoken around the world. But that number is expected to shrink rapidly in the coming decades. What is lost when a language dies?
In 1992 a prominent US linguist stunned the academic world by predicting that by the year 2100, 90% of the world's languages would have ceased to exist.
Far from inspiring the world to act, the issue is still on the margins, according to prominent French linguist Claude Hagege.
"Most people are not at all interested in the death of languages," he says. "If we are not cautious about the way English is progressing it may eventually kill most other languages."
According to Ethnologue, a US organisation owned by Christian group SIL International that compiles a global database of languages, 473 languages are currently classified as endangered.
Among the ranks are the two known speakers of Lipan Apache alive in the US, four speakers of Totoro in Colombia and the single Bikya speaker in Cameroon.
"It is difficult to provide an accurate count," says Ethnologue editor Paul Lewis. "But we are at a tipping point. From here on we are going to increasingly see the number of languages going down."
What is lost?
As globalisation sweeps around the world, it is perhaps natural that small communities come out of their isolation and seek interaction with the wider world. The number of languages may be an unhappy casualty, but why fight the tide? Read more...