How often do you speak a global language when you can use your mother tongue? Every time you choose a popular global language over your less-known mother tongue, you are pushing it a step closer to becoming extinct! And what we are yet to assimilate is that over 400 languages have already become extinct in the past century and the unfortunate trend continues to threaten many more.
Over seven thousand languages in the world… and they are not a mere collection of words, but vehicles… to pass on the unique culture to future generations. A language carries within itself the knowledge and information gathered from the life experiences of past generations. Their challenges, victories, glories take the form of words and enhance the language.
But while the languages give us a glimpse into the past, there are so many words that are now out of use and will soon be lost. Ever observed how your mum may never use a particular word that perhaps your grandma did? Yeah! That’s what we’re saying! With every generation, so many words, idioms, phrases, proverbs are lost, leaving the language a little less rich… a little less ‘itself’!
Experts believe that 50 percent of the languages and dialects alive today will become extinct by the end of this century! Which implies, all those cultures and traditions also face the risk of being lost, if not in entirety, at least a large part of them. James Crawford, a linguist, believes that losing a language or a dialect is similar to the extinction of a species. Can you imagine the forest without a tiger? What kind of dent such disappearance might cause to the ecology? Sounds grave, right?
Losing a language is somewhat similar. Because with its dying, a language takes away the linguistic, intellectual and cultural diversity and the cultural identity of that ethnic group. Especially in the case of the dialects without a written script, crucial knowledge gathered over centuries is also wiped out.
One of the endangered languages, Cherokee, for instance. It contains a word for every type of flora and fauna found in the region where it is spoken. What’s more, it also describes the properties and uses of each of those species. All of this information is significant for that region. If the language becomes lost, then the key to all this storehouse of knowledge will be lost too.
Australia is another example. Of the 300 aboriginal languages that existed at the time when Europeans arrived in Australia, 100 have already become extinct. Experts believe that of the remaining, 95 percent are on their way to extinction too. The loss is unfathomable! UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger lists all these endangered dialects, with America in the lead. A total of 576 are under the critically endangered category. Alarming, isn’t it!
But how do languages become extinct?
The most common reason – people simply stop speaking the language. Parents stop passing it on to their children. It’s not part of their formal education. So, they speak it less and less with each new generation. Even migration to other regions or countries makes it difficult for speakers of a rare language to use it in their day-to-day life. And when they return to their community, they may find it difficult to express themselves in their native dialect. This leads to dilution, with more and more words from other languages infiltrating the one in question. Mass deaths of communities can also be another reason with little to almost none of the population left to use the language.
But not all is lost yet…
The role of language preservation is significant in recording and conserving the endangered dialects. Many organizations are relentlessly working towards this cause. Some of the well-known organizations are Wikitongues, Living Tongues, Endangered Languages Project. These organizations, and even some dedicated Anthropologists are collaborating with the communities to preserve their dialects.
You too, can contribute towards language preservation in your own way. Make sure you pass on your mother tongue to the future generations of your family. Support the literature and cultural programmes that promote the local language. Learn the local language, or if you’re already a local, learn a dialect and also speak it. Promote your brands or works in local languages. There are many language service providers who can help you with that. You can even take a look at our offerings in this category.
In short, keep using your mother tongue in all the ways that you can and help it stay alive. Else, becoming monolinguistic could be the dreadful fate of humanity!