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  • Just over a decade ago, the last native speaker  of Yurok died. And the languagewhich had been  

  • spoken by indigenous people in California for  more than 10,000 yearsdied with him. And  

  • Yurok isn’t alone; every year, an estimated  nine languages go extinct. That’s why,  

  • if you look at an official count of the total  number of living languages in the world over time,  

  • you can see thatwait, huhHow are we gaining languages?

  • Hi, I’m David, and this is MinuteEarth.

  • First off, even though some languages are  going extinct, others that have been around  

  • for a long timelike Lakurumau, spoken  by a small group of villagers in Papua New  

  • Guineaare only just being described by  experts, and so theyre only now getting  

  • added to the official count. You know how  there are species that have been around  

  • for ageslike the shrew-like animal called  a gymnure, which has been shrewing around in  

  • the mountains of the Philippines for hundreds  of thousands of yearsbut theyre only just  

  • being photographed and documented for  the first time? It’s a lot like that.

  • But by far the biggest reason for the increase  in living languages is the realization that what  

  • we once thought was one language is actually  a group of similar but distinct languages.

  • Like, until the early 2000s, most experts  considered Arabicspoken by more than a  

  • billion people – a single language. But  as linguists learned more about all the  

  • different versions of Arabic, they realized  that some versions were so different that  

  • people speaking them couldn’t even  understand each other. As a result,  

  • what used to be one language is now  officially more than 30 different languages.

  • Actually, that TOO is a lot like what’s going  on with species on Earth; like, for a long time,  

  • scientists considered giraffes to be  a single species. But recent genetic  

  • research has revealed that there are actually  four separately-evolving groups of giraffes,  

  • prompting a proposal to quadruple the  official number of giraffe species out there.

  • So the number of known languages currently  spoken on Earth and the number of described  

  • species currently living on Earth are both  officially increasing, but only because we're  

  • getting betterand pickierabout documenting  and categorizing what’s out there, not because  

  • were actually gaining diversity. I meansurenew species and new languages ARE still  

  • occasionally evolving, but that’s a really slow  process; as our planet globalizes and homogenizes,  

  • existing species and languages are going  extinct way faster than new ones are evolving.

  • Soon, it’s likely that well reach peak  language and peak speciesthat is,  

  • we'll have documented and nit-picked basically  all we can, yet well be losing languages and  

  • species faster than everso the official counts  will begin to reflect the reality on the ground.

  • Which isdepressing. Occasionally, though, we  might be able to raise a language or species from  

  • the dead. Were still working on figuring out how  to clone dinosaurs, but Yurokthat indigenous  

  • language that died in 2013 – is alive again; it’s  actively being taught in some high schools, and  

  • today, more than 300 kids speak it proficientlySo despite all the linguistic and biological  

  • diversity were losing, perhapsevery once in  a whilelifeand languagewill find a way.

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Just over a decade ago, the last native speaker  of Yurok died. And the languagewhich had been  

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