Currently, there are around 6,500 spoken languages in the world. However, in the past century, our global cultural heritage has been deprived of about 400 languages. Every three months a language dies and experts estimate that, by the end of the century, half of the existing languages we have today will disappear.
However, should we consider this phenomenon as a loss and try saving dying languages?
Why Saving Dying Languages?
Some people believe that languages behave just like animal species. In other words, they undergo an evolutionary processes which involves also the possibility of their disappearance if they become ‘not fit’ to survive.
However, we should also take into account what losing a language forever actually means.
Some of the dying languages are oral and there are no written documents were they are stored. So when the last speaker of the language dies, the language disappears with him or her. As a result, there will be no hope of understanding how that language worked and what it had to offer. That’s because languages are unique codified information and some of it may not be present in any other language. Even if a dying language has written documents, but there are no native speakers who can explain how exactly the grammar, morphology, syntax and phonology works, it is very hard to fully understand the language and its potential. Moreover, languages also store the cultures of the people who speak them. Therefore, when a language dies, so does the culture it was part of.
Many languages have words and expressions which convey very specific feelings and concepts and some of these expressions do not exist in other languages. Many studies have proven that speakers of different languages conceive the world differently since we understand reality through our language – or languages. Therefore, letting languages die means depriving people from the possibility of unique perspectives in interpreting the world.
How to Preserve Languages
Today, thanks to all the available technology we have, it is easier to preserve languages. We may record those languages that have only an oral tradition and save all the data on the Internet. This is a great advantage since written information stored on paper and books are very vulnerable to such threats as acid, fire and environmental factor.
However, this is not enough to save a language from dying. We should encourage people – especially younger generations – to learn the language and use it in everyday life. Moreover, it is important to encourage the speaker of the dying language to teach it to their children. All this may be done by offering lessons to learn and study the language and by promoting its literature.