More Than 1500 Languages Going Extinct By 2100 – Say What?

From the sign language to the images in caves and pyramids of Egypt known as Hieroglyphic writing, language has gone through an evolutionary process. It is alarming that 1500 languages will go extinct by the end of this century 2100.

Hello in different languages

Have you ever thought about how do we communicate with each other and make each other understand? From exchanging ideas to the daily life routine, how do we connect? Yes, language is the medium through which we communicate. From the sign language to the images in caves and pyramids of Egypt known as Hieroglyphic writing, language has gone through an evolutionary process. It is alarming that 1500 languages will go extinct by the end of this century 2100.

Language: Tool of Communication

A stated by Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his mother language that goes to his heart.”

Why language is important? What happened if there were no languages? They serve as a medium and tool of communication. Languages are social and Cultural Identity Markers. They tend to be identity-driven. They have two functions to serve: one communication and asserting a person’s distinctive identity.  We can just recognize a person by his language.

Language: Expression of Culture

Language is an expression of a culture. They are not simply words but something that connects an individual to his family, identity, culture, music, beliefs, and wisdom. It is the carrier of history, traditions, customs, and folklore from one generation to another. Without language, no culture can sustain its existence. Our language is our identity.

Role of Mother Tongue

United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESACO) had declared February 21 as an international day for mother tongues in 1999. Education specialist Hurisa Guvercin said, “When a person speaks his mother tongue, a direct connection is established between heart, brain, and tongue. Our personality, character, modesty, shyness, defects, skills, and all other hidden characteristics become truly revealed through the mother tongue because the sound of the mother tongue in the ear and its meaning in the heart give us trust and confidence”.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova says, “mother languages in a multilingual world are essential components of quality education, which in itself is the foundation for empowering women, men, and their societies”.

Mother language plays an important role in a person’s life. It helps in the psychological development, thoughts, and emotions. Children tend to easily comprehend concepts and skills taught in their mother tongue. According to Psychologists, a strong bond is developed between child and mother through language (body and verbal).

Why languages are lost?

At the moment, 7000 languages are spoken worldwide. 40% of them are on the verge of extinction. It is said that by the end of 2100, 1500 languages will become extinct.

The linguists usually categorize the languages as dead, extinct, or dormant languages.

Dead Languages are those languages that are no more native to any community. They are usually the classical languages e.g Greek and Latin.

Extinct Languages are those languages that have no speakers left.

Dormant languages are those languages that still serve as a symbol of the ethnic identity of a community. E.g Indigenous languages of the Americas

There is an anonymous saying that when a language is lost, a door is closed on humankind. A civilization is lost.

There are lots of factors that contribute to the loss of language. It includes culture integration, migration, financial reasons, politics, and colonial policies. It can also be due to a lack of opportunities or suppression by a dominant language. The teaching opportunity in the native or mother tongue is usually not provided, which also results in the loss of the language.

A study regarding language extinction was conducted by the Australian National University which was published by the Journal of Nature Ecology and Evolution.  51 variables associated with the languages were analyzed by the scientists. The indigenous languages of Australia were lost due to the cruel colonial policies. More years of schooling also increased the level of language endangerment. Canada, Australia, and the US have the most significant language loss ratio as compared to the rest of the world. The co-author of the research Felicity Meakins stated, “Without intervention, language loss could triple within 40 years, equivalent to a language lost per month for the rest of this century.”

 “Across the 51 factors or predictors we investigated, we also found some unexpected and surprising pressure points. This included road density. Contact with other local languages is not the problem languages in contact with many other Indigenous languages tend to be less endangered. But we found that the more roads there are, connecting country to city, and villages to towns, the higher the risk of languages being endangered. It’s as if roads are helping dominant languages ‘steam roll’ over other smaller languages. When a language is lost or is ‘Sleeping’ as we say for languages that are no longer spoken, we lose so much of our human cultural diversity. Every language is brilliant in its way. Many of the languages predicted to be lost this century still have fluent speakers, so there is still the chance to invest in supporting communities to revitalize indigenous languages and keep them strong for future generations.”stated Professor Broham

Pakistan and Regional Languages at Loss

Pakistan is blessed to have diverse ethnicities and languages. The official languages include Urdu and English. Urdu as Lingua Franca to bind the whole country. People in Pakistan speak 74 provincial and regional languages. According to a study, many of them are near extinction.

The regional languages are at an alarming rate. The languages spoken in the North are in great danger due to globalization, colonization, and the influence of languages spoken around them. As they say, “the exclusion of the languages of these communities from spheres of state education and media”.  Some of the northern languages that are in danger for the past two decades include Wakhi, Balti, Bateri, Kandal Shahi, Chilisso, Ormari, Yadgha, Lasee, Bhaya, and Datki. Badeshi used to be spoken widely in a remote snow-clad valley, deep in the mountains of northern Pakistan. It is now considered extinct. Only three people can speak them. Torwali is the dominant language of the area, which is itself under pressure from Pashto. It has pushed Badeshi to the brink in this valley.

Many languages have been mentioned in the census, which is very disturbing. This will lead to the loss of the languages. In KPK, legislators have tried to add 15 languages to the census form through a resolution.

Lok Virsa’s role is very important in this regard. Their stance for the mother tongue revival is very clear. They have also celebrated Pakistani Mother Languages Day in 2020 which shows their dedication towards the languages of Pakistan.

There is no database built for these languages. If this work isn’t done soon, we will lose a huge part of our heritage that has centuries hold culture.  The areas that Pakistan is located have an old history of thousand years. Let’s not forget, the communities that do not take care of their heritages perish. We request the government to take initiatives to preserve languages as part of our cultural and regional identities.

Written by Shaheer Ahmed

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