Researchers Warn of Mass Language Extinction

An Australian-led study warns that 1,500 of the world’s 7,000 recognized languages might no longer be spoken by the end of this century.

The research, published Friday in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, details a wide range of factors putting endangered languages under pressure.

Australian researchers have found that as roads increasingly connect cities to more remote areas around the world, Indigenous languages can be overwhelmed by their more dominant counterparts, such as English.

The study also asserts that bilingual education has been neglected. Again, dominant languages have been found to smother those spoken by smaller groups.

Experts have said Australia’s record is poor, and the country has one of world’s highest rates of language loss worldwide.

Before European colonization, more than 250 First Nations languages were spoken in Australia. Today, there are just 40, and only a dozen are being taught to children.

“This has been an on-going process through colonization and globalization,” said the University of Queensland’s professor Felicity Meakins, one of the study’s co-authors. “So, we do not want to forget, of course, in all of this that individual speech communities have their own histories and experiences, and in many places, including Australia, languages have been silenced as the result of brutal colonial policies, which have been designed to suppress languages. So, for instance, in Australia people were punished for speaking their language and these experiences were really traumatic and have had lasting consequences for the ability of language communities to pass on their languages.”

Researchers have said that as the world prepares for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, Decade of Indigenous Language in 2022, their findings were a “vital reminder” that more action is needed to save at-risk languages.

They have said that every language is “brilliant in its own way” and a critical part of “our human cultural diversity.” 



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