Not exactly a new topic around these parts, but I thought Ben Macaulay’s take on it was more thoughtful and detailed than others I’ve seen, and even has audio files of the languages he highlights. He begins:
“Why don’t we just let all the languages die out?”, or some variant thereof, is the second question anyone asks me when I tell them I’m a linguist. (The first question is “How many languages do you speak?”) While that’s very jarring, I understand where the notion is coming from. The purpose of language is communication. What would be more efficient for communication, having to navigate the seven thousand languages that currently exist or just a few?
This idea makes it particularly difficult for people outside of linguistics to see language endangerment and extinction as an emergency. Those more inclined towards social justice might realize that language is one of the strongest bonds that holds a culture together, and the fact that a language is only spoken by a small community does not make it less worthy of respect. However, the need to keep languages alive runs even deeper than altruism.
Linguistics, or the investigation of patterns within and across languages, has yielded findings that not only shed light on the details, but on other areas such as auditory/visual perception and cognition in general. These findings increase exponentially with the number of languages that are documented and allowed to thrive and develop into new language states.
Keeping that in mind, let’s look at some examples of endangered languages and the different circumstances that put them at risk. To start is an example of a language with no tie to the linguistic community: not only does it lack the resources offered to documented endangered languages, but we actually don’t know whether there are still speakers or not.
Under one of them he says, “You may know Ayapa Zoque by its Spanish name, Ayapaneco. This language was the subject of a Vodafone marketing gimmick and started a trend of endangered language thinkpieces starting with a 2011 article in The Guardian.” This is leagues above those thinkpieces; check it out. (Thanks for the link, Parry!)