Language is one of the most important components of culture: members of a group need to be
able to understand each other, and the shared language is often a unifier of that group’s members.
Unfortunately, the irony of the globally connected world we live in, in which culture can now be
shared across the world in seconds, is a rapid extinction of the languages of many cultures. It is
estimated that a language goes extinct every two weeks, which nearly wipes out those cultures.
Here are some examples of endangered languages from across the globe.
Why languages go extinct
Several factors can cause a language to become endangered or extinct. Speakers might not be
passing the language down to the youth of that culture. Another source is speakers of the
language no longer viewing it as important to their sense of self, meaning they are less likely to
use it in everyday situations. Luckily, many cultures are making efforts to preserve their native
Sauk Fox-American Midwest
Sauk Fox is an Algonquian dialect that is currently down to less than 200 speakers. The decline
of this language goes back to colonial America, in which American settlement forced them
further west. There are remnants of the Sauk and Fox in the American Midwest and Oklahoma.
Unfortunately, all fluent speakers of Sauk Fox are above the age of 70, placing the language at a
high risk of becoming extinct.
To combat the potential loss of Sauk Fox forever, an apprenticeship program was created in
which the fluent speakers teach younger members of the tribe who teach other students.
Irish is a Celtic language and was the inspiration of other Celtic languages such as Scottish and
Welsh as it spread to what is now Britain. The Irish had a rich literary history, and tablets have
been found with the Irish language translated into Latin from the 600s AD. This discovery makes
Irish the oldest written language north of the Alps.
The decline of the Irish language began in the 1500s after being conquered by England. The
conquest created the need to use English in affairs of state. Additionally, the Great Potato
Famine in the 1800s caused many speakers to emigrate. Today, Irish is rebounding now that it is
recognized as an official language of the Republic of Ireland.
The Ainu are a Japanese minority from the northern island of Hokkaido. The Ainu language is
unrelated to Japanese, and its origins are still currently unknown. The language was stigmatized
by the Japanese, leading to the loss of many native speakers as well as an aging population. The
remaining fluent Ainu speakers are at least 80 years old. In the modern day, Ainu is taught in
several universities to preserve the language’s heritage.