You likely know about endangered animals, but have you heard of endangered languages?
Click start to play today’s Word Search, where you can find many of the world’s most popular languages.
Languages that are quickly falling out of use and being replaced by others are considered to be endangered, because if current trends continue, they will become extinct within the next century. According to Linguistic Society, right now, there are dozens of languages with only one native speaker still living – so it’s almost guaranteed that with that person’s death, the language too will die… never to be heard, spoken, or known by anyone ever again.
It's a tragic thought, but a reality that has happened over and over again through the course of history.
Extinct languages are different from dead languages. For instance, ancient Greek and Latin are considered to be dead because they are no longer spoken in the same form as is found in written texts. But these languages weren’t abruptly replaced – they evolved. Ancient Greek lent itself to modern-day Greek, and Latin can be found in the roots of words across Italian, Spanish, French and other languages.
To become extinct, a language has to completely be wiped out. This can happen during historical events, like genocides. For instance, European invaders attacked and murdered Tasmanians in the early 19th century, ending an unknown number of languages that were spoken by that group.
In other circumstances, languages become extinct when a community is compelled to integrate with a larger or more powerful group, and learns the outsiders’ language in addition to their own. And in still other cases, communities could be pressured to entirely give up their language, and cultural identity. Young Native Americans, for instance, were punished for speaking their indigenous languages at boarding schools until as recently as the 1960s.
According to Linguistic Society, there are currently well over 5,000 languages in the world, but by some estimates, 80 per cent of the world’s languages may disappear over the next century. People will instead adopt languages that are spoken by a majority of people, like English, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi and others.
The first languages to go may be those spoken by minority communities. Tribes in Papua New Guinea alone speak as many as 900 languages, and are at most risk. Other groups whose language is endangered include the Aboriginal people in Australia, along with tribal minorities in Africa, Asia, and marginalised European people like the Frisians, and the Basques.