Of the 7,000 rich, varied languages spoken in the world today, only half will be around at the end of the century unless we make efforts to save them, reports Miller-McCune’s Emily Badger. But if people can communicate without them, why do obscure languages matter? She writes:
As the famous example says, Eskimo have numerous words to describe what Americans would just call “snow” and “ice.” This suggests language systems don’t merely translate universal ideas into different spellings; they encode different concepts. And when we lose a language, we risk losing those concepts.
Last month, a joint program of the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities called Documenting Endangered Languages received $3.9 million in funding to record and preserve disappearing dialects. Says Badger:
The project may sound like a punch line for another anti-science tirade from a small-government politician, but its work touches on fundamental questions about how the brain works, how people express ideas, how societies adapt, and how human history has evolved.
Some of these languages are spoken by fewer than 30 elders, and most members of the next generation are not learning them, making the need for preservation immediate. Below are ten of the unique languages that researchers are endeavoring to save, along with links to their programs.
Bangime, Northern Bali
Navajo, Southwestern U.S.
Cherokee, Southeastern U.S.
Chechen, the Caucasis
Southeastern Tepehuan, Mexico
Image by laogooli, licensed under Creative Commons.