New studies focusing on the native languages of thriving countries have yielded some shocking results. As countries continue to prosper and grow, the native languages of the land are facing extinction. The research done seems to indicate that the main cause of language extinction is actually the economic success of the region.
As a region starts to experience economic growth and prosperity, a single language becomes predominant. This language is then used for all aspects of government, economics and education. With the focus on a single primary language, many individuals are being forced to learn this new principal language for fear that they will not be able to participate in a political or economical way. This means that the native languages of some of the most highly developed nations are fast approaching extinction.
With nearly 25 percent of the world’s approximately 7000 languages or the equivalent of around 1750 languages facing extinction, the scientists behind these studies are calling for conservation efforts to be made to help preserve these languages. In North America there are some languages that have less than 25 people able to speak in the native tongue. The same can be said for places such as France, Scandinavia and Nepal. As the countries contend with rapid economic growth, their native languages are being lost to a more predominant one.
Language experts reviewing the research point out that where once the environment played a part in how cultures and language spread, now it is also social and political factors as well. Environmental patterns are no longer attracting diversity in language. Instead, we are seeing politics and economics drawing people away from diverse languages. The extinction that languages are facing comes from a migration away from native speaking villages into the mainstream where the primary language is spoken.
While environmental migrations have been documented because of historical data, the same cannot be said for this new migratory pattern. Entire villages are being extinguished in an effort to follow the economic trail. Unfortunately, these migratory patterns based on economics and politics are a recent development. This means that there is not enough statistical data to analyze numbers. Much of what researchers have to study is recent enough that no documents or numbers are readily accessible for review.
Until enough data has been collected and analyzed, the true impact of the economic migration will not be known. What is known is that there are languages on the verge of extinction. There are languages that have basically already gone extinct because there are no longer any native speakers, so while there is a name for the language, there is nothing else left. Entire cultures are essentially being wiped out because the native language is no longer spoken or remembered.
As these studies of the threat facing native languages and their extinction continue, scientists will turn to conservation efforts that have already occurred in order to try and preserve the struggling languages. Successes such as the project to conserve Welsh in the United Kingdom are excellent examples that can be used to attempt to preserve other dying languages. Preservation will be the only way that these cultural voices will remain.
By Kimberley Spinney