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How many dying languages are there?

Languages are an integral part of human culture and identity. They not only serve as a means of communication but also encapsulate the rich history, traditions, and knowledge of a community. However, in today’s interconnected and globalized world, many languages are facing the threat of extinction. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) highlights the critical issue of dying languages and has created the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger to categorize and raise awareness about them. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of dying languages, the extent of language endangerment, the causes behind it, the consequences of language extinction, and the efforts being made to preserve and revive endangered languages.

The Concept of Dying Languages

A dying language refers to a language that is on the verge of extinction, with only a handful of people still speaking and using it. The loss of speakers and the intergenerational transmission of the language are the key indicators of language endangerment. Various factors contribute to the endangerment of languages, including historical, social, political, and cultural changes. These factors can lead to a decline in language usage and a shift towards dominant or majority languages.

The Extent of Language Endangerment

UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger provides a comprehensive overview of the state of endangered languages worldwide. The atlas categorizes languages into different levels of endangerment, ranging from “vulnerable” to “extinct.” According to the latest edition of the atlas, there are 2,473 languages classified as endangered.

The atlas categorizes endangered languages based on the number of speakers, the generational transfer of the language, and the level of institutional support. The categories include “critically endangered,” “severely endangered,” and “definitely endangered.” Each category represents the varying degrees of urgency in preserving and revitalizing the languages.

Global Distribution of Dying Languages

Language endangerment is not evenly distributed throughout the world. Certain regions demonstrate a higher concentration of dying languages. For instance, regions like Africa, Asia, and the Pacific have a significant number of endangered languages. This is due to historical factors, colonization, assimilation policies, and the ongoing impact of globalization.

Within these regions, there are specific examples of languages that are facing extinction. For instance, the indigenous languages of North America, such as Navajo and Dakota, are critically endangered. Similarly, African languages like Dinka, Kikuyu, and Zaramo are facing severe endangerment. These examples highlight the urgent need for efforts to preserve and revive these valuable linguistic treasures.

Causes of Language Endangerment

Language endangerment arises from a complex interplay of factors. Linguistic and cultural assimilation plays a significant role, with dominant languages supplanting minority languages. The dominance of major languages, driven by globalization and economic factors, leads to a decline in the use and transmission of endangered languages.

Political and social factors also contribute to language endangerment. Suppression of minority languages in educational systems, government policies, and social stigma can marginalize speakers and diminish the viability of their language. Displacement and migration, often caused by conflicts and economic challenges, further erode the linguistic diversity within communities.

Consequences of Language Extinction

The extinction of languages has profound consequences for both the affected communities and the global society as a whole. From a cultural perspective, the loss of a language represents a severe depletion of cultural heritage. Languages are the carriers of ancient traditions, knowledge systems, oral histories, and cultural practices. When a language dies, these invaluable aspects of collective human experience vanish as well.

Furthermore, language extinction disrupts the intergenerational transmission of cultural values. Language plays a vital role in passing down traditional knowledge, beliefs, and practices from one generation to the next. When a language is no longer spoken, this transmission is impeded, creating a disconnect between older and younger generations and potentially leading to the erosion of cultural identity.

The consequences of language extinction extend beyond the cultural realm. Endangered languages embody unique grammatical structures, vocabulary, and linguistic features that are not found in other languages. Losing these languages means losing a vast repository of linguistic diversity and knowledge. This loss inhibits scientific research, linguistic studies, and anthropological understanding of human cognition and language evolution.

Efforts to Preserve and Revive Endangered Languages

Recognizing the urgency of addressing language endangerment, various initiatives and programs have been implemented worldwide to preserve and revive endangered languages. Indigenous communities and language activists are at the forefront of these efforts, working alongside linguists, educators, and institutions to protect linguistic diversity.

Language revitalization programs aim to create opportunities for speakers to use and learn endangered languages. These programs may include language immersion schools, preservation of oral traditions, language documentation projects, and the development of digital resources. Collaborative efforts between communities, linguists, and institutions play a crucial role in keeping endangered languages alive.

Additionally, the documentation and recording of dying languages are crucial for their preservation, even if the number of speakers is diminishing. Linguists and researchers work closely with communities to document vocabulary, grammar, and oral histories in order to create comprehensive language archives. Technology is also being utilized, such as audio and video recordings, linguistic databases, and mobile applications, to support language documentation efforts.


The threats faced by dying languages are a wake-up call to the importance of preserving linguistic diversity. Each language represents a unique piece of human culture and ethnic identity. The UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger draws attention to the pressing issue of language endangerment and provides a framework for understanding and addressing this concern.

Preserving and revitalizing endangered languages requires global awareness and support. It is not merely the responsibility of affected communities but also of governments, educational institutions, and individuals. Efforts to document, record, and teach dying languages are essential to safeguard linguistic diversity for future generations. By embracing and valuing the linguistic richness of our world, we can ensure that no language is lost or forgotten.


  1. This is why half of the world’s languages are endangered
  2. Endangered language – Wikipedia
  3. Lists of endangered languages
  4. A decade to prevent the disappearance of 3000 languages
  5. Global predictors of language endangerment and the …