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Endangered language is a language that is at risk of falling out of use as its speakers die out or shift to speaking another language. Language loss occurs when the language has no more native speakers, and becomes a dead language. If eventually no one speaks the language at all, it becomes an extinct language. There are two dimensions to the characterization of endangerment: the number of users who identify with a particular language and the number and nature of the functions for which the language is used. Language endangerment may be caused primarily by external forces such as military, economic, religious, cultural, or educational subjugation. It may also be caused by internal forces, such as a community’s negative attitude towards its own language or by a general decline of group identity. Internal pressures always derive from external factors. Together, they halt the intergenerational transmission of linguistic and cultural traditions. Endangered languages are not necessarily languages with few speakers. Even though small communities are more vulnerable to external threats, the size of a group not always matters. The viability of a language is determined first and foremost by the general attitude of its speakers towards their heritage culture, of which their language may be considered the most important component.
A language may be endangered because there are fewer and fewer people who claim that language as their own and therefore neither use it nor pass it on to their children. It may also, or alternatively, be endangered because it is being used for fewer and fewer daily activities and so loses the characteristically close association of the language with particular social or communicative functions. Since form follows function, languages which are being used for fewer and fewer domains of life also tend to lose structural complexity, which in turn may affect the perceptions of users regarding the suitability of the language for use in a broader set of functions. This can lead to a downward spiral which eventually results in the complete loss of the language.
Several scholars predict that up to 90% of the world’s languages may well be replaced by dominant languages by the end of the 21st century, which would reduce the present number of almost 7,000 languages to less than 700. Statistical data related to language use may illustrate the extent of the problem of language endangerment. About 97% of the world’s people speak about 4% of the world’s languages; and conversely, about 96% of the world’s languages are spoken by about 3% of the world’s people. Approximately 85% of the almost 7,000 languages of the world are spoken in only 22 countries. With the disappearance of unwritten and undocumented languages, humanity would lose not only a cultural wealth but also important ancestral knowledge embedded, in particular, in indigenous languages.
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Associations of Endangered Languages
• Endangered Language Alliance
• Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (Paradisec)
• Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project
• United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO)
• National Science Foundation
• Alliance for Linguistic Diversity
• Committee on Endangered Languages and their Preservation (CELP)
• Linguistic Society of America
• Foundation for Endangered Languages
• Central Institute of Indian Languages
conferences on Endangered Languages
• 1st International CUA Conference on Endangered Languages from 13-16 October 2014 at Ardahan, Turkey.
• Linguistic Approaches to Endangered Languages: Theory and Description from 28-Jul-2015 - 30-Jul-2015 at Istanbul, Turkey.
• NSF-Supported Special Sessions on Pedagogy in Language Conservation from 26-Feb-2015 - 01-Mar-2015 at Honolulu, HI, USA.
This page will be updated regularly.
This page was last updated on 10th Oct, 2014
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