Language has been in existence for a very long time. It is like a living entity on its own. It can either evolve, or it can also diminish to a point of oblivion, or even extinction. But why does language disappear? And when a language disappears, what is the impact to us as communicative beings?
Language does not only allow us to know a person’s land of origin. It is also relevant in knowing and understanding one’s culture, heritage and history. Without comprehending language, we will not be able to discover the amusing antiquity of diverse human civilisation. Take for example Egypt, their rich and astonishing history could have been lost and forgotten forever, but thanks to the discovery of Rosetta Stone, scholars were able to understand and translate the hieroglyphics. This paved way to better appreciation and understanding of Egyptian culture and their way of living during the ancient time.
While the success story of uncovering the Egyptian hieroglyphics was celebrated widely, it is melancholic to know that there are also languages on the verge of extinction. There are languages that have continuously declined to a point of endangerment and ultimately, may lead to their extinction. According to endangeredlanguages.com, they have listed as much as 3,000 endangered languages across 179 countries. This is a rough estimation of the known languages at the time of compilation and does not provide us the accurate number. Nonetheless, the number of languages on the verge of extinction are continuously increasing.
A language may become extinct due to the dying out of speakers or the changing of language preference to another. Due to changes such as globalisation and industrialisation, the rate by which a language becomes extinct rapidly increases. As per UNESCO, “It is estimated that, if nothing is done, half of 6000 plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century. 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.”
While language extinction is definitely inevitable, their lifespan can be lengthened by enabling younger generations to learn and understand the respective languages. Dissemination of information and community engagement can also help in preserving languages on the verge of extinction.