This week I was shocked to read that one of the 7000 languages in the world becomes extinct every two weeks. Every two weeks! Languages aren’t spreading like they used to, whether regionally due to climate change, or generationally due to the increase in more widely spoken languages such as Spanish, English, or Chinese. UNESCO has a full list of endangered languages, and I’ve found a couple of causes and projects around the world dedicated to archiving, recording, and teaching the languages for future generations. Unfortunately, I’m not blessed with a great talent for learning languages (my German tandem partner can attest to that!) but I wanted to discover more about these languages, and maybe learn a few words.
I mainly used the Endangered Language Project and UNESCO to research some of the languages, but good old YouTube came in handy too. I picked out three at random and tried to spread them out geographically: there are around 3000 endangered around the world, and in the US alone there are 191.
First up was Shoshoni, spoken by the Shoshone people, a Native American tribe in Utah, Nevada, and Idaho. UNESCO have classed Shoshoni as severely endangered, recording only 2000 speakers. I found quite a few different resources for learning Shoshoni which I took to be an encouraging sign, but I went with this video and learnt how to count 1 – 10.
Next up was Quechua, spoken by South American indigenous people around the central Andes, mainly in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Although Quechua is widely used in Peru, it is on UNESCO’s endangered list due to it being largely spoken rather than written. Again, there are a lot of efforts to revive Quechua, and a lot of resources out there to be found.
My final language was Senaya, classed as critically endangered by UNESCO, and spoken by fewer than 60 people in Iran. Understandably there are fewer resources around for Senaya than the previous two, but I did manage to find a video counting cats!
It was really fascinating learning about these (and other) endangered languages. It sparked a research session where I found so many interesting facts and articles about the languages, and the people who speak them. It intrigued me so much learning about how a language dies, and the people that are trying to revive them, I found it all very inspiring and encouraged me to learn more. Luckily, popular language app Duolingo have also got behind the effort to revive some languages, and already have programmes for Hawaiian and Navajo, with plans for more in the works.