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  • I don't speak those languages.

  • In fact, very few people do.

  • They're used only by a handful of people and all those languages are in danger of extinction.

  • There are more than 7,000 languages spoken in the world today.

  • But about a third of those have fewer than 1,000 speakers

  • and according to UNESCO more than 40% of those languages are in danger of extinction.

  • In fact, every fortnight, one of the world's languages disappears forever.

  • When you say dead language, many people think of Latin.

  • But, Latin actually never died.

  • It's been spoken continuously since the time of the Caesars,

  • but it changed very gradually over 2,000 years until it became French, Spanish, and other romance languages.

  • True language death happens when communities switch to other languages

  • and parent's stop raising their children to speak their old one.

  • When the last elderly speaker dies, the language is unlikely ever to be spoken fluently again.

  • If you look at this chart which measures the world's languages in terms of their size and their state of health,

  • you can see that most languages are ranked in the middle.

  • English, like just a few other dominant languages, is up at the top left-hand corner.

  • It's in a really strong state.

  • But if your language is down here in the bottom right-hand corner of the graph,

  • like Kayapulau from Indonesia or Kuruaya from Brazil, you are are in serious trouble.

  • In the bad, old days governments just banned languages they didn't like.

  • But sometimes the pressure is more subtle.

  • Any teenager growing up in the Soviet Union soon realized that whatever language you spoke at home, mastering Russian was going to be the key to success.

  • Citizens of China, including Tibetans,

  • as well as speakers of Shanghainese or Cantonese face similar pressure today to focus on Mandarin.

  • Once a language is gone, well,

  • it usually goes the way of the dodo.

  • Just one language has ever come back from the dead: Hebrew.

  • It was extinct for two millennia

  • but Jewish settlers to Palestine in the early 20th centuries spoke different languages back in Europe

  • and they adopted Hebrew on their arrival as their common language.

  • It became Israel's official language when the country was fully established in 1948 and now had seven million speakers.

  • Now Hebrew is the world's only fully revived language but others are trying.

  • Cornish spoken in southwestern England died out two centuries ago.

  • But today there are several hundred speakers of the revived language.

  • Practicality aside, human diversity is a good thing in it's own right.

  • Imagine going on an exciting holiday only to find that the food, clothing, buildings, the people, and yes, the language was just the same as back home.

  • Oliver Wendell Holmes put it well,

  • "Every language is a temple in which the soul of those who speak it is enshrined."

  • Moving that soul of the people from a temple into a museum just isn't the same thing.

I don't speak those languages.

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B1 US language hebrew spoken extinction temple latin

Why do languages die? | The Economist

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    Samuel posted on 2018/10/21
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