Endangered languages

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An endangered language is a language which is headed for extinction. An endangered language either has no monolingual speakers - people who speak only that language, or is spoken by such a small minority in the nation that its speakers avoid using it or passing it on to the next generation. Many languages today have only one remaining speaker, an older person who will take that language with him or her to the grave.


All about endangered languages

During the past several years languages have been becoming extinct in nearly every part of the world. Ethno linguistic groups are either shifting from their original language to another which offers more power or opportunities, or whose population is becoming so reduced that there is no further use in continuing with their language.

Effective way of expressing culture

Language is the most effective way of expressing a culture. And it is the owners of that culture that lose the most when a language dies. All peoples identify their culture as closely with their languages as with their religion.

There is no correct estimate of how many languages exist in the world today, but the figure has been approximately out at around 6800. Roughly 1,000 are spoken in the Americas (15%), 2,400 in Africa (35%), 200 in Europe (3%), 2,000 in Asia (28%) and, perhaps, 1,200 in the Pacific (19%). [1]

Out of these only about a quarter of the languages and few dialects have writing systems and not all languages have even been "discovered" by Western linguistics. Most linguists, however, agree that half of the world's languages are endangered; many fear that 90% will disappear by the end of this century. [2]

Global efforts

In the last few years a number of linguistic conferences have focused on the problem of endangered languages. These include the LSA Endangered Languages symposium, 1991; the 15th International Congress of Linguists, Quebec, August 1992; the 2nd International Conference on the Maintenance and Loss of Minority Languages, Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands, September 1992; the 17th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, November 1992; Thirteenth World Congress on Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, Mexico City, August 1993; the 48th International Congress of Americanists, Stockholm, July 1994; the January 1995 LSA Meeting; and two more recent conferences on Linguistic Rights, in Barcelona and Hong Kong. [3]

Indian endangered languages

With 196 of its languages listed as 'endangered', India tops the Unesco’s list of countries having the maximum number of dialects on the verge of extinction.

India is closely followed by the U.S. which stands to lose 192 languages and Indonesia, where 147 are in peril.

As per the latest Atlas of World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing unveiled by the Unesco., as many as nine of these languages are already extinct. These are: Ahom, Aimol, Andro, Chairel, Kolhreng, Rangkas, Sengmai, Tarao, Tolcha

In addition, 35 languages are on the 'critically endangered' list, 6 on the 'severely endangered' list, 62 are 'definitely endangered' and the remaining 84 are listed as 'unsafe'.

UNESCO Red Book on Endangered Languages:

Extinct languages

  • Kemi Sámi
  • Southern Mansi
  • Polabian
  • Slovincian
  • (Old) Prussian
  • Norn
  • Gothic
  • Manx Gaelic
  • Cornish
  • Mozarabic
  • Shuadit (Judeo-Provençal)
  • Zarphatic (Judeo-French)
  • Dalmatian

Nearly extinct languages

  • Ume Sámi
  • Pite Sámi
  • Akkala Sámi
  • Ter Sámi
  • Livonian
  • Votian
  • Italkian (Judeo-Italian)
  • Yevanic (Judeo-Greek)
  • Krimchak (Judeo-Crimean Tatar)

Seriously endangered languages

  • South Sámi
  • Lule Sámi
  • Inari Sámi
  • Skolt Sámi
  • Kildin Sámi
  • Ingrian
  • Ludian
  • Vepsian
  • Western Mari
  • Kashubian (proper)
  • Molise Croatian
  • Eastern Frisian
  • Northern Frisian
  • Yiddish (Judeo-German)
  • Breton
  • Leonese
  • Ladino (Judeo-Spanish)
  • Languedocien
  • Auvergnat
  • Limousin
  • Channel Island French
  • Istriot
  • Istro-Romanian
  • Meglenitic
  • Arvanitika Albanian
  • Tsakonian
  • Italiot Greek
  • Pontic Greek
  • Karaim
  • Crimean Tatar
  • Cypriot Arabic

Endangered languages

  • North Sámi
  • Karelian (proper)
  • Olonetsian
  • Erzya
  • Moksha
  • Eastern Mari
  • Udmurt
  • Permyak
  • Komi (proper)
  • Tundra Nenets
  • Lower Sorbian
  • Upper Sorbian
  • Burgenland Croatian
  • Rusyn
  • Western Frisian
  • Cimbrian
  • Irish Gaelic
  • Scottish Gaelic
  • Welsh
  • Asturian
  • Aragonese
  • Algherese Catalan
  • Provençal
  • Gascon
  • Walloon
  • Romansch
  • Ladin
  • Friulian
  • Gallurese Sardinian
  • Logudorese Sardinian
  • Campidanese Sardinian
  • Sassarese Sardinian
  • Aromunian
  • Arbëreshë Albanian
  • Romani
  • Chuvash
  • Bashkir
  • Nogai
  • Trukhmen
  • Gagauz
  • Kalmyk
  • Basque
  • Potentially endangered languages
  • Belorussian
  • (Lowland) Scots
  • Low Saxon (Low German proper)
  • Galician
  • Francoprovençal
  • Piedmontese
  • Ligurian
  • Lombard
  • Emilian
  • Corsican [4]

UNESCO e-Atlas of Endangered Languages

A team of linguists from across the world led by Australian Professor Christopher Moseley has prepared a unique interactive and digital language Atlas which was released on the eve of International Mother Language Day on February 21, 2009. The new edition of the Unesco Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger of Disappearing aims to answer questions like: Why do languages disappear? Which parts of the world are most affected? What can be done to save them? The Atlas contains updated information on over 2,500 languages and is available free of charge worldwide.

It will be continually updated and will allow users to produce their own maps, based on a country or region, or to conduct searches by language category—extinct, critically endangered, severely endangered and definitively endangered. A paper version of the Atlas will be published in the coming months in English, French and Spanish. [5]

90 degrees

The spread of English as the commercial international language has a big role to play in making so many languages endangered. The Internet, where even the computer code is based on English, too has contributed. However, the Internet is becoming a tool for preserving endangered languages, too.

Speakers of Celtic languages have been particularly active in putting up web pages in the various Celtic languages. [6] They have also been mounting extremely effective, large-scale dictionary and language-learning projects on line. There is no reason why minority languages cannot coexist with English; indeed, the Internet offers more hope for their survival than they have ever known before, especially if translation tools become more effective.


  • Endangered Language Initiative
  • Endangered Language Groups
  • 196 Indian Languages 'Endangered': Unesco


  1. Ethnologue language name index
  2. 750 Extinct and Endangered Languages
  3. SIL INternational
  5. Unesco e-Atlas
  6. Celtic Languages