As certain languages spread, others are spoken less and less. We often hear that the three most widely spoken languages are English, Chinese and Spanish. The number of people speaking these languages is increasing every day. The top 10 most widely spoken languages account for around half of the world’s population. But what about the world’s least spoken languages?
There are around 7,000 languages spoken around the world, and around 2,000 of these are at risk of extinction. It is estimated that one language dies out approximately every two weeks. Most of these languages do not exist in written form and are passed on orally from one generation to the next, which makes attempts to preserve them somewhat difficult.
Every language is part of the world’s linguistic heritage, which we must try to protect. Here are some of the most at-risk languages:
There are also endangered languages in Europe. For example, Arbërisht is a language spoken in central and southern Italy. It is of note for the fact that it has preserved the pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary of pre-Ottoman Albanian. For a modern Albanian-speaker, reading or listening to Arbërisht would be similar to an English-speaker trying to converse with someone from Shakespeare’s time.
In France, where around 75 regional languages were once spoken, only around seven are now in frequent use: Alsatian, Moselle Franconian, Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican and Occitan. Of the French regional languages, only these, plus Tahitian, can be taught in French schools. And yet, all of France’s regional languages are part of its linguistic heritage, and thus worthy of protection.
Most often, a language dies because another language is dominant in the region. When one culture is predominant relative to another, the minority culture dies out. This may be linked to colonisation, for example.
The main factor in the disappearance of a language is the failure to pass it on to younger generations. If a language is spoken by 2,000 people, but none of these people speak the language to their children, then 50 years later, the language dies with the older generation. But why would anyone choose not to pass their mother tongue on to their children? Many countries consider that national unity stems to a great extent from sharing a single national language. In France, for instance, the wording of the Constitution was amended in 1992 to state that “the language of the Republic is French”, to the detriment of regional languages.
The loss of a language can also result in the loss of a crucial means to understand a linguistic group and its history, culture and local environment. Would you be able to convey the history and values of your country in a foreign language? We must promote multilingualism so as to save our world heritage.
“A different language is a different vision of life” – Federico Fellini
At Tradoc, we translate into all languages. Please do not hesitate to contact us for a free and customised quotation.