I was glad to see this story (by Polly Curtis) from the Guardian:

A language is lost every two weeks, according to the head of a new centre for research into endangered languages, which is being launched today.
People are increasingly choosing to teach their children more commonly used languages in a bid to help them gain work in later life, their research says. As a result half of the 6,500 languages spoken around the world are anticipated to disappear in the next century – a rate of one every fortnight.
The new centre for research into endangered languages at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, which is backed by £20m grant, is being launched today by the Princess Royal.

Researchers will use the money to record and archive endangered languages and look at ways of encouraging people to retain their indigenous languages.
Professor Peter Austin director of the Endangered Languages Academic Project, said: “The main reason that languages are lost is that communities are switching to speaking other people’s language – they adopt a language of a local area.
“Many people in east Africa are opting for Swahili; Indians in central and south America speak Spanish to their children to give them an economic advantage.”
The professor, who himself speak three Australian aboriginal languages as well as two Indonesian dialects, English, some Japanese, German and Italian, added: “The tragedy is that although people may decide now that it’s better to switch, in a generation or two, their children or grandchildren will regret that. We’re trying to help people remain multi-lingual by adding languages rather than losing them.”
Along with the endangered languages the centre aims to preserve large elements of the disappearing cultures. Archived material which Professor Austin has gathered so far includes interviews with the last known speaker of Jiwarli, a western Australian Aboriginal dialect, Jack Butler, who died in 1986.

Thanks for the link go to Simon Ager of Omniglot.


  1. My Yiddish-speaking, immigrant grandparents did the same thing with my parents. As they wanted them to succeed and excel in the United States, they spoke to them in their non-native, flawed and accented English rather than teaching them their home language, Yiddish, the language of their culture. And forget about Russian, the language of my grandparents’ schooling and that of the larger society. My point is that this rationale that lets obscure languages die also comes into play with more major languages too.

  2. I had never seen the Omniglot site before. Very intersting thanks for the link.

  3. In some cases this can work in reverse. The rigorous efforts by the British to anglicize South Africa led to an equally determined effort on the part of the Boers to retain their language and their identity. The net effect is that despite the fact that English is a major vehicle for international communication, Afrikaans continues to play an important role in South Africa. National pride plays a pivotal role. What a shame this doesn’t apply to more minority languages.
    PS I’m not sure whether you regard the disappearance of minority languages as a good thing or a bad thing, languagehat. The word “Cornish” springs to mind!!

  4. *looks at his shoes, embarrassed*
    I don’t know why I was so hard on Cornish back then. It’s like when I was a kid I used to try to kick pigeons. I’ve grown out of it now.
    *foot twitches reminiscently*

  5. Hooray for SOAS. I studied there, you know (back when I was doing something useful: Yoruba art), splendid place.
    Perfectly normal kids from Liverpool, fluent in Arabic and Turkish, or Swedish PhD who just happened to be students of Korean linguistics. It was one of those, “what, you don’t know Akkadian?” sorts of places, ab fab.
    They are the “man for the job.”

  6. Kicking pigeons is nothing to be ashamed of.

  7. Tell it to my wife, zizka.

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