Endangered languages are ones that risk their no longer being used, and this could be because of speakers turning to other languages or dying. When a language finds no more speakers (native or otherwise) it is regarded as an extinct language. Although languages have been lost over a period of time through the course of history, present day opinion points towards globalization increasing the rate at which languages continue to disappear.

Languages in Today’s World:

The present day scenario is one where languages which are spoken more commonly dominate ones which aren’t spoken as commonly, and what’s also been noticed is that languages which are looked upon as economically powerful tend to dominate all others. This leads to the belief that languages which do not find many speakers risk disappearing altogether in not too distant a future.

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The Stats

As per the ‘Ethnologue’, a print and web publication that holds stats for over 6,000 languages (6,909, to be exact), 473 of these languages are categorised as ‘nearly extinct’. This implies that only a handful of elders speaking the given language are still alive. Estimates say that if no remedial measures are taken then more than half of all languages spoken today will extinct before the turn of the century, and this number could be as high as 90% according to some estimates.

Why are Endangered Languages a Concern?

The extinction of languages, both written and spoken, will not only lead to a loss of cultural wealth, but also of imbedded ancestral knowledge which is particularly true when it comes to languages of the indigenous people. There are different reasons why the loss of languages should be a concern, and these include:

- Loss of Knowledge: There are a number of instances where small speech communities are privy to specific knowledge and when the next generation does not learn the given language, there is a stop in the flow of this knowledge. Examples in case include knowledge about specific plants, animals, medical cures, etc.

In addition, languages should be looked upon as great sources of history, literature, and philosophy, and when a language becomes extinct, we are bound to lose out on a plethora of information.

- Human Rights: The loss of a language is not voluntary in most instances, and involves some form of human intervention in the form of repression of the weaker section. In such a scenario, the human rights aspect should not be ignored.

Some Endangered Languages

There is no definitive list of endangered languages, and the 473 mentioned in the latest edition of the Ethnologue is the best number to go with. Given below are some endangered languages, and as one can see, they are found in different parts of the world.

  • Af-Boon or Boon: Spoken in the Middle Jubba Region of Somalia by 59 people (data as of 2000).
  • Tshwa or Tsoa: Spoken in Zimbabwe and Botswana by around 7,400 people.
  • Xirikkwa or Xiri: Spoken in South Africa, with less than a 100 speakers left.
  • A’Tong: Spoken in the Southern Meghalaya region of India by around 15,000 people (data as of the 1920s, no recent data available).
  • Aimol: Spoken in Burma by 2,640 people (as of 2001).
  • Biete or Biate or Bete: A

Kukish language

  • spoken in India by around 19,000 people.
  • Darmiya or Darma: Spoken in parts of India and Nepal, with around 3,000 speakers left (as of 2006).
  • Abaga: With just five speakers as of 1994, this language from Papua New Guinea is near extinction.
  • Ainbai: Another endangered language from Papua New Guinea, this language spoken in the Sanduan province is used by around 100 people (as of 2003).
  • Bella Coola or Nuxálk: Spoken around Bella Coola in British Columbia (Canada), there are only 20 to 30 people who still speak this language.


  • Tlingit: Home to Western Canada and Southeast Alaska, Tlingit was spoken by 1,141 people as per data collected in between 2006 and 2010.

Efforts to try and revive some endangered languages continue to be underway, and the list only continues to grow because new dialects and languages still continue to be discovered.  If we are to truly save all endangered languages from extinction, it will need more than a conscious effort, it will need cooperation from local bodies, the right use of resources, the ability to break cultural barriers, and so much more.

About Guest Author: Daniel is the owner of Hablaa.com, a multilingual online dictionary that also happens to be a great resource for translators. Readers can find out more and explore for example the new English – Afrikaans dictionary (http://hablaa.com/english-afrikaans/) at hablaa.com.

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