The NY Times has an article by John Noble Wilford beginning “Of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, linguists say, nearly half are in danger of extinction and likely to disappear in this century.” I know what you’re thinking: “So what else is new?” But there’s a news hook:
New research, reported yesterday, has found the five regions where languages are disappearing most rapidly: northern Australia, central South America, North America’s upper Pacific coastal zone, eastern Siberia, and Oklahoma and the southwestern United States. All have indigenous people speaking diverse languages, in falling numbers.
The study was based on field research and data analysis supported by the National Geographic Society and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. The findings are described in the October issue of National Geographic and at languagehotspots.org.
Interesting tidbit: “a group known as the Kallawaya use Spanish or Quechua in daily life, but also have a secret tongue mainly for preserving knowledge of medicinal plants, some previously unknown to science. ‘How and why this language has survived for more than 400 years, while being spoken by very few, is a mystery,’ Dr. Harrison said in a news release.” Thanks for the link, Bonnie!
Update. Informed (and unenthusiastic) commentary from Claire Bowern, who actually knows what she’s talking about, here.