The Importance of Saving Dying Languages


Over the last 100 years, around 400 languages (1 every 3 months) has gone extinct and linguists estimate that over 50% of the remaining 6,500 world language will be extinct by the end of the 21st century. UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger lists 576 language as critically endangered. Currently, the top 10 languages in the world are spoken by half of the global population and it seems we are on the path to being a monolingual.

But does it matter if a seemingly insignificant language spoken by only a small number of people in a remote corner of the world disappears?  Some argue that it is simply a result of social Darwinism on an ever-evolving planet.  However, language is the one thing that makes us human and others argue that it should be protected just as biodiversity and endangered species should be. Languages are conduits of human heritage and they convey unique cultures. To preserve cultural identity, language needs to be preserved as well. Others maintain that language also contain bodies of knowledge and wisdom and provide different ways of examining and interpreting the world around us, thinking and solving problems.

Linguists are working hard to save the world’s endangered tongues despite this seemingly inevitable extinction, by making dictionaries, recording histories and translating oral stories into written text. The idea is that with a corpus of good documentation, even if the language are to disappear, there’s a chance they could be revitalized in the future.  Other efforts are being undertaken such as the addition of language courses in endangered tongues being taught at universities around the world. Additionally, technology is instrumental in the preservation and revitalization of endangered languages. Versions of computer operating systems (Windows 8, iOs, etc.) and Wikipedia articles, for example, exist in rare tongues and there are many mobile apps and multimedia teaching tools being developed to translate and teach these languages to children.

Even tech giants like Google and Microsoft are actively participating in language revitalization projects. Microsoft  has devloped a number of interface packs and software patches that allow developers and programmers to build software and computer interfaces in native tongues. Google’s Endangered Languages Project is an online database and community for those interested and involved in language revitalization to create, save and share all the work done in this area.

Similarly, Ednastics is ideally situated to actively participate in the development and protection of endangered languages. Our team of linguistics experts has done postgraduate research in best practices for language revitalization; furthermore, a key member of our team has written a dictionary for the Somali language. As one of our key consulting services, we endeavor save dying languages by participating with local governments, NGOs and institutions of higher learning to do what is necessary to protect and preserve this key attribute of human culture.

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