According to UNESCO, many of the world’s languages may soon go extinct. At the current rate at which less common languages fall into disuse, at least 50 percent or more of the languages spoken by people today will disappear by the year 2100. This was a conservative estimate, with more cynical projections putting the rate as high as 90 percent. It’s easy to see why. As globalization continues, more and more people take up a “lingua franca” or language of business and work in order to function, with languages like Chinese, Spanish and English dominating. Thousands of languages are now in danger of being erased from our cultural and historical memory. As each language is lost, entire ways of thinking and being are also lost. Here are just five of the ones at risk.
This was a language spoken by the Massalat people of western Darfur in the Middle East. The language became a victim of regional cultural imperialism, as Arabic became the region’s dominant language. While the population of Massalat people is relatively healthy and numbers in the tens of thousands, only 10 people are still fluent in the language.
This is the language spoken by an indigenous tribe of Taiwanese aborigines in a region known as Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan. Only the elders of this tribe have maintained fluency in the language. In 2000, only six speakers were left, only one of whom was under the age of 60. In 2014, two elder members of the tribe died.
This is a language spoken in the South Pacific’s Papua New Guinea region. The people who speak it are a displaced tribe that were relocated along with other tribes to a resettlement village. As a result of this, the rarity of the language, put into conflict with other languages spoken at the same village, have discouraged new generations from learning it. In 1990, there were only 50 people fluent in the language. By 2000, that had dropped to 10.
This language comes from Australia, and is an endangered dialect spoken by the aborigines of the Roper River region in the Northern Territory. Children are no longer learning this language, and like Susuami, competition from other tribes’ dialects is discouraging fluency. Two towns have a small concentration of fluent speakers, but there are less than 50. Work is being actively done to preserve the language in a dictionary and other resources.
The Wichita language traces its origins back to the Wichita tribe, who lived in the area that is now the U.S. states of Kansas-Oklahoma before European-American colonists moved west. Today, there is only one person who fluently speaks Wichita, a woman named Doris McLemore who was born in 1927. Unsurprisingly, despite her age, she is not retired; she is keeping her language alive by teaching it to others.