Are there just too many languages? HONOR WILSON investigates whether we should be concerned about language loss.

In the world today, there are around 7000 languages. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural organization (UNESCO) have recorded that 2,464 of these languages are rated from vulnerable to extinct (UNESCO, 2018). So, how do we know when a language is endangered or extinct?

Language is considered endangered, when there are a decreasing number of native speakers and the language is not being used frequently. According to UNESCO (2018) there are approximately 577 critically endangered languages worldwide.

Kulon-Pazeh, spoken in Taiwan, is an example of an endangered language. This language only has four remaining speakers who are currently trying to revive it, by teaching the youth the language to keep their culture and heritage alive (Inside Taiwan, 2015).

Language death, on the other hand, is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED, 2017) as “the process or phenomenon whereby a language, usually that of a cultural minority, disappears or falls into disuse.” The language of Yuki, based in Mendicino County, California (Balodis, 2016, p.14), is now a dead language. This is because despite conservation efforts, the last speaker, Arthur Anderson, passed away in 1983 (Balodis, 2016, p. 19).

So, should we actually be concerned about the rapid decline in the number of languages worldwide? Or can we all continue sleeping easy at night thinking that it doesn’t affect us? The majority answer is probably the latter, because the majority of the population (particularly speakers of the world’s major languages) do not think it affects them. Therefore, there is a lack of interest in dying languages. People have bigger concerns. Politics, education, families just to name a few.

Dalby (2003, p. 207) discusses Hawaiian as an endangered language. He suggests that with the loss of the language comes “the loss of Hawaiian political independence, the loss of culture, the loss of the natural environment, and – equally significant for our future – the loss of knowledge of what the local environment has to offer.” Without culture, who are we as people? Culture is intertwined with our identities as human beings. Without this sense of individuality, are we not all the same?

Languages also play a major role in the history of the speakers (Crystal, 2000, p. 40). This is evident through the connections between indigenous tribes and their ancestors. Some languages connect people to their ancestors and to their past. A native speaker of the language Kwakwaka’wakw, Vera Newman, accentuates how important her language is to her identity and how it separates her from contemporary society (Bell and Napoleon, 2008, p. 43). Another reason is that languages hold sections of history within them (Little, 2016). Crystal (2000, p. 40) states that “languages are repositories of history”. History is vital to existence as it contributes to the speakers’ identity and therefore guides their cultural views and customs. In losing these customs it is clear that, “[w]isdom unique to these linguistic communities becomes extinct with their languages” (Burridge and Bergs, 2017, p. 208).

On the other hand, is it possible that the decline in languages is improving worldwide communication and opening the doors for more trade, employment and immigration? Lingua francas are important with respect to this as they are “making direct communication possible where before it was difficult because of a language barrier” (Ostler, 2008, p. 2). When languages are lost due to the impact of the major world languages, it is clear that cultures that wouldn’t normally be able to communicate with the world, obtain this capability. Dalby (2003, p. 168) explores the idea of a “national language” and how a singular culture and language become the norm once the minority languages cease to exist. This is evident with the different variations of the Chinese language and how they are impacting countries in Eastern/Southern Asia (UNESCO, 2018). According to BBC News (Foster, 2012), there are around 840 million speakers of Mandarin worldwide. Due to the dominating, economic and political landscapes in the world today, there is a need for all minor countries that trade and have political ties with other countries, to know the major world languages.

Whilst there are many major advantages to everyone speaking one language, these appear to be outweighed by the disadvantages. A significant one of these is that without each country having their own unique languages and cultures there is no individuality or cultural diversity. If the world is to lose all of its indigenous languages to the top 20 dominant languages (Chinese, English, Arabic etc.), would the world become significantly blander?

HONOR WILSON, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Balodis, U. (2016). Yuki Grammar: with sketches of Huchnom and Coast Yuki. California: University of California Press.

Burridge, K., & Bergs, A. (2017). Understanding language change. London, United         Kingdom: Routledge.

Crystal, D. (2002). Language death. Cambridge, UK/ New York, USA: Cambridge           University Press.

Dalby, A. (2003). Language in danger: the loss of linguistic diversity and the threat to our future. New York, USA: Columbia University Press.     

Foster, A. (2012, October 15). ‘Eight ways China is changing your world’. BBC News.

Little, A. (2016. November 30). ’15 Reasons Why We Need Endangered Languages’. 7000 Languages

Ostler, N. (2008, August). ‘Is it Globalization that endangers languages?’  UNESCO conference paper.

‘Pazeh people say there are still four Pazeh speakers left’ (2015, September 20). Inside Taiwan



Should endangered languages be saved or left to ‘die’? SEAN BARTON considers whether we are over-romanticising language diversity

‘Language death’ is a major area of interest within the field of linguistics. Its contrasting arguments provide many emotive opinions on the topic. Trying to preserve and inject life into endangered languages is the key task for many linguists around the world. Crystal (2000) states that the death of a language occurs when “nobody speaks it anymore” (p. 1). According to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural organisation (UNESCO), over 2,460 languages are recorded as endangered. The debate can be split between the ‘linguistic relativity’ and ‘language as communication’ arguments, i.e. those who believe languages should be saved and those who believe they should be allowed to die.

At the heart of the preservers’ argument lies the idea that our perception of the world is affected by the languages we speak (Malik, 2000). If the last speaker of an endangered language passes, the speaker takes it to their grave. Crystal (2000) says if a language is not recorded prior to its death, it is like it never actually existed (p. 2). As a result, the “important linguistic systems disappear forever” (Burridge & Bergs, 2017, p. 208). Are the linguistic systems of the extinct Native American language of Yuki regarded ‘important’? English was adopted by the Yukian tribe to communicate with other tribes. It is suggested that English was the reason that contributed to the decline of Yuki (Balodis, 2016, p. 14–15). This occurred in 1858, after many tribes were moved to reservations around the Yuki native valley. This example can be defined as a slow process of language loss, which occurred over a century, until the death of the last fluent speaker Arthur Anderson in 1983.

On the other hand, factors that put a population in physical danger can cause rapid language loss. For example, Papua New Guinea suffered a high Richter scale earthquake in 1998, killing over 2,200 and directly affecting 10,000 (Crystal, 2000, p. 71). The Arup and Warupu villages were severely damaged, meaning their languages were displaced with 30% of the villagers dying in the traumatic catastrophe and the survivors of it moving to other communities (Crystal, 2000, p. 71). This resulted in their native languages becoming useless in the new areas.

The shattering influence of so-called ‘bulldozer’ languages, such as English and Mandarin Chinese, put local languages in jeopardy (Burridge & Bergs, 2017, p. 207). This begs the question, do dominant languages eradicate languages? Or is the use of dominant languages over native tongues simply the result of preference or necessity? Malik (2000) states that languages die out because their speakers have a desire for a better life, not because the language itself is being suppressed. Dalby (2003) claims that education, trade and immigration are all contributory factors to the eventual death of Hawaiian (p. 207). Education is one of the main factors for language loss. Typically, a language can have prestige over another if it is used in education (Dalby, 2003, p. 219). Many native speakers of endangered languages see prosperity in learning a more dominant language, leaving no residual use for their natural tongue (Dalby, 2003, p. 219).

So why should we care? Surely having one lingua franca for all communities would be a blessing and a step forward to world peace. Crystal (1999) disregards this assumption, stating a “monolingual world would not bring peace”. He adds that “we should care about dying languages for the same reason that we care when a species of animal or plant dies”. The world would surely lack diversity if we all spoke one language, as languages represent a community’s culture. Language is identity, and loss of language is loss of cultural identity (Burridge & Bergs, 2017, p. 208). The issue of endangered species and plants deserves more attention than those of an endangered language. A language cannot provide nutrition or cure diseases, whereas animals and botany can respectively.

Many linguists are romanticising the death of languages. Anyone has the right to speak any language they desire, but it does not mean that anyone should listen to it (Malik, 2000). It is wrong to question whether one language should have prestige over another, and none have a God-given “right to exist” (Malik, 2000). Ultimately, a prestigious language is only given this title by those who speak it and those who choose to abandon theirs to adopt it, for whatever reason. If the speakers of the ‘suppressed’ languages decide not to use their native tongue because of their preference for a dominant language, should we just let that language die?

SEAN BARTON, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Balodis, U. (2016). Yuki grammar: with sketches of Huchnom and Coast Yuki. California, United States of America: University of California Press.

Burridge, K., & Bergs, A. (2017). Understanding language change. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Crystal, D. (1999). Millennium briefing: the death of language. Prospect Magazine.

Crystal, D. (2000). Language death. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Dalby, A. (2003). Language in danger: the loss of linguistic diversity and the threat to our future. New York, United States of America: Columbia University Press.

Malik, K. (2000, November). Let them die. Essays

United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural organization. (2018). Language Atlas. 

Endangered languages: Following the path of the Dodo? RACHEL DUNSTER explores the pros and cons of language ‘death’

By definition ‘Language Death’ is the process whereby a language, usually that of a cultural minority, disappears or falls into disuse (OED online, 2018). Quite simply ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’. Yet can the reasoning behind the death of a language ever be summarised so simply?

Consider the case of the now extinct Eyak language. Eyak was one of twenty languages spoken in Alaska and its vocabulary was rich in words relating to its speaker’s natural environment and occupations in the fishing trade. For example, to describe a soft, rotten spot in the ice, the term demex’ch would have been used. To describe a large, treacherous hole in the ice, speakers would have used the term demex’ch’lda’luw (Abley, 2008). Such terms can now only be found in the Eyak Language Dictionary created through the efforts of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Marie Smith-Jones, the last speaker of Eyak. Until her death in 2008, Miss Smith-Jones was a prominent spokeswoman for indigenous languages having addressed UN conferences on the subject. Sadly, despite efforts to preserve Eyak, the language ultimately died when Marie died.

The dominance of English plays an important role in the process of language endangerment. When one considers the fields of business, education, popular culture and so forth, English is the evident victor as the lingua franca (Bryson 2009: 2). However other than the supposed ‘murderous intent’ of the English Language, one must also consider the attitudes towards indigenous languages and the motivations of their speakers. As with many speakers of indigenous languages, Marie was belittled for and prohibited from speaking her mother tongue during her childhood. If she was ‘caught’ speaking Eyak, she would be denounced by her peers and cruelly punished her teachers. There is a tragic irony in the fact that in Eyak, Marie’s name is translated as “a sound that calls people from far away” yet her voice and also her heritage was silenced (Shields, 2008). It should therefore have been the proud task of Marie’s nine children to preserve and revitalise the Eyak language. Sadly however they made the conscious decision not to continue their mother’s legacy. Thus rather than merely blaming the dominance of the English language, it would appear that Eyak was complicit in its own death. Crystal (2000: 86) defines this concept more realistically as ‘language suicide’.

The extinction of a language inevitably results in the thoughts and beliefs of different cultures no longer being represented. Speakers of German for example have at their disposal a range of creative vocabulary. Have you ever tried to improve a situation but in fact made it ten times worse? There’s a German word for that – verschlimmbessern. Have you ever hatched a grand scheme after a couple of drinks? That would be a Schnappsidee (The Telegraph, 2017). In isolation such terms could simply been seen as a part of an individual’s speech. However, some argue that language death does not merely result in the loss of the grammatical level of language but also the social and cultural level as well. Individuals go as far as comparing the loss of language and culture to the bombing of the Louvre (Abley, 2008). Such dramatic terms are common place in the debate surrounding language death. However, if for example, the German language were to face extinction, such concepts would disappear, potentially be forgotten and we would lose an insight into the connection between our thoughts, language and culture.

One would hope that individuals working in the field of linguistics would be concerned about and strive to conserve such endangered language. Professor John McWhorter of the University of Columbia however states in no uncertain terms, “Get over it”, and, as is the case with Argentina, individuals should “not cry for Eyak” either. He argues against the great lengths that are made to preserve endangered languages when such efforts are unlikely to be successful anyway (McWhorter, 2010). His theory evidently manifests itself in the case of Eyak as it was unrealistic to believe that the language could have been revived with only one speaker remaining.

As such we must come to our own personal conclusions regarding language endangerment and death. Should we be going to greater efforts to preserve endangered languages and the variety of cultures that they encompass? Alternatively, by going to such efforts to preserve “the unpreservable”, is it not the case that we are delaying the inevitable? Should we accept that language death is a natural part of life? Perhaps in conclusion we should be reminded of Charles Darwin’s analogy: “Survival of the fittest” – the requirements of which neither Eyak nor the Dodo met.

RACHEL DUNSTER, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Abley, M. (2008, January 28). ‘It’s like bombing the Louvre’. The Guardian.

Bryson, B. (2009). Mother tongue. : The story of the English language. London, United Kingdom: Penguin.

Crystal, D. (2002). Language death. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

McWhorter, J. (2010). ‘Don’t Cry for Eyak’. Wilson Quarterly.

OED Online. (2018). ‘Language death’. Oxford University Press

Shields, R. (2008, February 25). ‘Farewell, Udach’ Kuqax*a’a’ch, the last native speaker of Eyak’. The Independent.

‘19 amazing untranslatable words’. (2017, April 9). The Telegraph.

Should speakers of ‘minority’ languages be ashamed to use their mother tongue? NOURA GOMAA explores the reasons for language death.

The subject of language death stimulates many differing opinions. Some believe language death is positive and good for the community, bringing people closer by using only a few languages. Others believe it is a phenomenon that should be prevented and with every endangered or minority language that exists today encouraged to be preserved.

There are many proposed reasons for language death, including cultural assimilation, natural disasters, youth, globalisation and movement of people (Brenzinger 1992; Crystal, 2000). But whilst coming across many different reasons as to why languages may die, stigmatisation was what caught my eye. Reading through pages and pages of how a language can die due to its speakers being ashamed to use it made me think twice. Why would anyone be ashamed of their language? Crystal discusses stigmatisation in his book Language Death (2000), and highlights that it is the speakers of dominant languages that are responsible for stigmatising the use of minority languages. He claims that “members [of dominant language] stigmatize the people [of minority languages] in such terms as stupid, lazy and barbaric […] and their language as ignorant, backward, deformed [and] inadequate” (Crystal, 2000, p.84). Comments like this could be deemed very offensive and aggressive, causing some members to defend their language, and others to abandon it. Crystal goes on to say that those who choose to abandon their mother tongue view their language “as a sign of backwardness, or as a hindrance to making improvements in social standing” (2000, p. 84).

One example is from Amna Khaled’s blog Urdu vs English: Are we ashamed of our language? (2011), where she discusses how, although she had never lived in an English speaking country, she uses English in her everyday speech more than her native language, Urdu. She states that “[i]nstead of conversing in Urdu, many of us lapse into English during everyday conversation. Even people who do not speak English very well try their best to sneak in a sentence or two, considering it pertinent for their acceptance in the ‘cooler’ crowd” (Khaled, 2011). As a speaker of Arabic myself, I understand what Khaled is saying here, as it is also apparent in many Middle Eastern countries, with the idea that the more English you use, the more educated and respectable you are. Khaled concludes by saying “Urdu is a beautiful and graceful language and we owe our country the respect it deserves by speaking and portraying our true roots” (2011). Similarly, Stephen Prickett, in his book European Romanticism: A reader (2014), writes of the different languages and dialects that were present in Norway. He states, “[s]hould we […] give up this precious treasure from our past, which our ancestors have kept faithfully throughout their strenuous lives, and left to us like a sacred heritage?” (Prickett, 2014, p.619).  Some argue yes, that we should give up on a language that is no longer needed as it is a way of moving forward and developing (BBC, 2010). Prickett however, argues by losing their native language “we lost our fortune and our honor, therefore we lost the language of our fathers” (2014, p.619). He continues to say, “let us put prejudice aside, and not be ashamed to use the language of our own country” (Prickett, 2014, p.619). This type of attitude encourages speakers of minority or endangered languages to take action and implement language death prevention methods.

One example is of the Cypriot Maronite community who recently made efforts to bring back their heritage, language (called Sanna) and culture (Bielenberg, 2013). Brian Bielenberg (2013), in his chapter called ‘Involving youth in planning the renewal of a lesser used language’ attempts to describe why some speakers, especially young speakers, may be ashamed of their language. He states that speaking a language or language variety “different from their friends separates them from their peers” (Beilenberg, 2013, p.180). He explains how Sanna was “often ridiculed, leading many Cypriot Maronite families to promote the learning of Greek in the home from a very young age” (Beilenberg, 2013, p.183). Hale (1998) comments on this issue by believing that the economically dominant culture and society “encourages speakers of local languages to believe that their futures depend on switching from their native language to the dominant one” (p.215). However, after interviewing 24 youths, many of them said they are not ashamed of their language, and see it as their responsibility to keep it alive (Beilenberg, 2013, p.183).

No matter whether you think language death is good or not, I believe no one should feel embarrassed of their native language, but rather those who are stigmatising these minority languages should themselves be ashamed.

NOURA GOMAA, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Are dying languages worth saving? (2010) BBC Magazine online.

Bielenberg, B. (2013). Involving youth in planning the renewal of a lesser used language. In M. Karyolemou & P. Pavlou  (2013). Language policy and planning in the Mediterranean world (1st ed.). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Pub.

Brenzinger, M. (Ed.). (1992). Language death: Factual and theoretical explorations with special reference to East Africa (Vol. 64). Walter de Gruyter.

Crystal, D. (2000). Language death. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Hale, K. (1998). On endangered languages and the importance of linguistic diversity. Endangered languages: Language loss and community response, 192-216.

Khaled, A. (2011). Urdu vs English: Are we ashamed of our language?

Prickett, S. & Haines, S. (2014). European Romanticism: A Reader (1st ed.). A&C Black.

Why do languages die out and does it matter? MEGAN MOODY explores the pros and cons of language loss

How necessary is the preservation of ‘endangered’ languages? As a monolingual speaker of a global lingua franca, it is difficult to understand the importance of preserving endangered languages, especially for the few remaining speakers of them. Languages are dying at a considerable rate around the world today. Crystal (2000:1) estimates approximately one language is being lost every two weeks. Despite the concerns of many linguists, the use of a ‘main’ language could become inevitable, with English being the front-runner. As English is an official, or co-official language in one third of the world’s countries and within 90 countries it plays a significant role.

According to David Crystal, 1.5 billion people use English as either a first, second or foreign language (2000:3). English is a global language being used in many sectors around the world, such as education, business, science and even air traffic control. This contact language lifts barriers and is useful for people to communicate around the world with ease. It provides access to wider sources of information. In particular the internet holds 60% of online content that uses English as the preferred language. As Kenan Malik (2000) argues, language has the whole purpose for the ability of communication. He points out that if there are not enough people to speak a language, then is it really worth keeping it alive. This is an important factor of the extinction of languages, as 19 out of 20 languages are not being passed down to younger generations (Krauss, 2007). This is mainly owing to the knowledge of a prestigious language representing a higher level of class and education, consequently resulting in greater opportunities for employment. For example, in Egypt the capability to speak English would increase your pay by potentially three times in some businesses. Thus as Woodbury states, “the fate of a language can depend on one generation”.

McIntyre discusses the alleged benefits of simply letting English globalize. He states that speaking one global language could “make travel easier, […] international communication more straightforward and provide more economic opportunities” (2009:76). However, it is questionable whether the benefits outweigh the consequences of allowing languages to die. The endangerment of languages is a widespread problem that many are determined to prevent. Crawford elaborates on this claiming that, “when languages die the world loses four big things: cultural diversity, cultural identity, intellectual diversity and linguistic diversity”. An argument against Crawford is that a language must die for a reason; therefore doubts arise surrounding the need to preserve it (1995:33). Some claim that the saving dying languages is unnecessary as cultural forms have been changing throughout history and will never be immortal. Therefore attempting to rescue endangered languages represents a need to cling to the past instead of focusing on moving forward.

There are possible advantages to the usage of a global language.Schneider (2011) points out that English is the language of trade and business that offers an easier way of communicating. Crystal explains that “sharing a single language is a guarantor of mutual understanding and peace, a world of new alliances and global solidarity” (2000: 27). This idea generates the question as to whether speaking fewer languages would be better for the sake of the world leading to the encouragement of language death. Crystal however suggests that speaking fewer languages creates ‘linguistic power’ (2003:16) meaning that for the people whose mother tongue is the global language there would appear to be a higher regard. For example 75% of Britons are unable to speak foreign languages, with a vast downfall in foreign languages being chosen for A-Level study in British schools.

Of course language makes up part of our identity and holds an extensive supply of culture. Are people losing part of their identity by choosing not to speak their native tongue? Or is it the case that languages have been naturally developing for hundreds of years, therefore the death of them is organic and a process of evolution.

MEGAN MOODY, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Crawford, J. (1995). Endangered Native American Languages: What is to be Done, and Why? The Bilingual Research Journal, 19 (1).

Crystal, D. (2000). Language Death. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Crystal, D. (2003) English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krauss, Michael. (1992). The world’s languages in crisis, Language 68(1), 4-10.

McIntyre, D. (2009) History of English: A Resource Book for Students. London: Routledge.

Malik, K. 2000. Let them die in peace. 

Schneider, E. (2011) English Around the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Woodbury, A.  What is an endangered language? Linguistic Society of America.


‘Should we try and prevent the death of endangered languages’? asks LAURA GALLIMORE

First it is important to define what ‘language death’ is. The Oxford English Dictionary (2007) defines it as “[d]isappearance of a language, especially where speakers shift progressively to another or others: thus e.g. of many languages in North America or Australia once spoken by people whose descendants now speak only English.”

According to Crystal (2002:19), “[a] middle position would assert 50% loss in the next 100 years […] To meet that time frame, at least one language must die, on average, every two weeks or so.” It is important to bear this statistic in mind as it means in order to start saving languages we must start preserving them now. If we leave this too late then there may not be any languages left to preserve.

One main reason proposed for saving dying languages is that we would lose an aspect of diversity if we lost languages. Nettle & Romaine (2002: 7-10) believe that linguistic diversity is “a benchmark of cultural diversity. Language death is symptomatic of cultural death: a way of life disappears with the death of a language”.  This can be seen in languages such as Hupa where there is now only one known speaker living in California. Hupa was the language of the Hupa Indian tribe native to the USA. Perhaps losing this language may mean losing literature such as songs, poems and books or even words and definitions of entities we have never seen or heard of before.  Nettle & Romaine (2002) also believe we could lose valuable information about how languages vary and the limits of human language if languages continue to die out.

Not only is losing languages potentially bad for our cultural education and linguistic research but Khan et al. (2015) believe a variety of languages enriches lives overall because of the beliefs, experiences and knowledge we share using it. They claim that “with disappearance of a language there is likely to be a serious loss of cultural legacy and inherited knowledge to the nation and to the world as well”.

Could the use of one language globally for such important aspects of life be killing off other languages, rendering them useless?

Mufwene (2005) discusses the claim that English is ‘a killer language’, powerful enough to wipe out other languages, particularly in Europe.  Would using this one language help or hinder us? Benefits of using one language globally are obvious for the people speaking this language; it would be easier to communicate globally, easier to travel or emigrate, the use of media platforms could be shared as well as political discussions being open to everyone with no language barriers (Schulzke, 2014).

Interestingly Marácz (2016, p.32-36) looks further into the idea of using one language in politics. English is currently used as the lingua franca of European parliament which means people use English to communicate if they do not speak the same native language. Marácz (2016, p.32-36) suggests that this has influenced the spread of English to Europe because of its use as a mediator language in government and of successful politicians. Schulzke (2014: 227) calls this use of English to discuss ideas globally “a neutral language” where “mass competence in a single language can also help to ensure that language differences cannot be used as a basis for political exclusion”.

However idealistic this idea of global communication sounds, one language would mean the loss of other languages… and this is already the case.

Perhaps looking at language death in history could help us to decide whether language death is something we should care about. For example, there are many languages that have already become extinct and this has been happening for centuries. A good example is the loss of indigenous languages in Italy when the Romans colonized Europe. Latin overtook indigenous languages because of its use by powerful people in government. Looking back, Latin became an extremely influential and highly respected language which is still respected today. However, even Latin has died out over time and is no longer spoken in our modern society. Does this suggest that even the strongest languages evolve and die out eventually?

It can be seen that we need to make a decision about the future of the world’s languages quickly in order to preserve languages that are dying out.  Luckily, linguists have already started recording endangered languages such as the organisations the ‘Endangered languages project’ and ‘UNESCO’. As it stands English is still growing globally and as long as language death is being investigated we can begin deciding the best course of action.

LAURA GALLIMORE, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Crystal, D. (2002). Language death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Khan, M. T., Humayun, A. A., Sajjad, M., & Khan, N. A. (2015). Languages in danger of death – and their relation with globalization, business and economy. International Journal of Information, Business and Management, 7(2), 239.

Language death. The Oxford English Dictionary (2007). (2nd ed.) OED Online. Oxford University Press.

Marácz, L. (2016). Does Global English Support the Development of Social Europe?. Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, European and Regional Studies, 9(1),31-38. 

Moseley, C (2010). UNESCO, Atlas of the world’s languages in danger. R

Mufwene, S. S. (2005) Globalization and the myth of killer languages.  In: G. Huggan & S. Klasen  (eds.) (2005) Perspectives on Endangerment.  New York: Georg Olms Verlag,45.

Nettle, D., & Romaine, S. (2002). Vanishing voices: The extinction of the world’s languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schulzke, M. (2014). The prospects of global English as an inclusive language. Globalizations, 11(2), 225-238. 

The endangered languages project powered by google, the endangered languages project language map.


Why do languages die out? And should we care? JENNIFER CROMPTON looks at language loss

Why do some languages outlive others? What causes a language to die? Should we care if a language dies? These are all questions that come to mind when we think about the topic of language death. Language death is defined as when “a language is no longer spoken by anyone as their main language” (Cambridge Dictionary online). Some examples of languages that are already dead include Latin, Ancient Greek and Ancient Hebrew (The Linguist List).

So how does language death occur? There are many reasons why a language is no longer used by anyone as their native language. One of these reasons is a decline in usage by younger generations. If a language is only used by the older generation, when they eventually die, then there will be no one left to speak the language. As Crystal states, “[i]f you are the last speaker of a language, your language– viewed as a tool of communication – is already dead. For a language is really alive only as long as there is someone to speak it to” (2000, p.2). Also, as bigger, more dominant languages spread, children whose parents speak a minority language often grow up learning the dominant language of that area. The Linguistic Society of America explains that the fate of a language can change in just one generation (Woodbury, A). For example in Alaska, the Yupik Eskimo language was spoken by all the children in one community twenty years ago, but today the children only speak English.

If speakers of a certain language feel that there is a stigma attached to that language, then they may be less likely to speak it. Crystal says that “many languages are being viewed by their speakers as a sign of backwardness, or as a hindrance to making improvements in social standing” (2000, p. 84). Crystal uses the example of the indigenous languages Quechua and Aymara in Peru, whose speakers are swapping to Spanish, the more dominant language (2000, p. 84). The stigmatisation of a language can also go one step further, as some countries have an outright ban on their minority language, such as the ethnic Kurds in Turkey, who by law cannot teach their language (Linguistic Society of America).

Another reason for language death is cultural assimilation. This is when the more dominant culture starts to influence the smaller minority culture until its characteristics begin to show and are adopted in the minority culture (Crystal, 2000, p. 77). Colonisation is one form of cultural assimilation, for example in Australia and North America where the indigenous people were defeated (Crystal, 2000, p. 77), and English eventually became the dominant language of both of these countries.

Most of the debate around language death centres on whether we should care that certain languages are dying and others seem to be more important. One argument that suggests we should care about the death of language is that language has links to cultural identity and knowledge, and these will be lost if the language dies. As K David Harrison writes for the BBC, the last speaker of a language can “tell how their ancestors calculated accurately the passing of seasons without clocks or calendars. How humans adapted to hostile environments, from the Arctic to Amazonia” (Harrison, 2010).

The other side of the debate suggests that if a language dies, it has done so for a reason and we do not need to try and preserve something that is not needed. Another article from the BBC News says that cultural forms are lost all the time and trying to hold on to a dead language “shows a desire to cling to the past rather than move forwards” (BBC News, 2010).

So can anything be done for a language that is already dead? The answer is yes – as shown with the revitalisation of Welsh and Cornish in the UK, and the Native American language of Wompanoag amongst others (Powers, 2014). Many of the successes are due to movements and projects, but Crystal points out that “[t]he conditions have to be right for there to be a likelihood of success: the community itself must want to save its language” (The Guardian, 1999).

It seems that this debate will continue so long as languages keep dying out. Some will feel like it is a huge loss if a language dies, whereas others feel like the world might be an easier place if we all could speak the same language.

JENNIFER CROMPTON, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


BBC News. (2010). Are dying languages worth saving? BBC Magazine online.

Crystal, D. The Guardian. (1999). Death sentence.

Crystal, D. (2000). Language death. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Dead Language. Cambridge Dictionary online

Harrison, K. D. (2010). The tragedy of dying languages. BBC News. 

List of extinct languages. The Linguist List.

Powers, B. (2014).  5 inspirational stories of language revitalization success. Languages around the globe

Woodbury, A.  What is an endangered language? Linguistic Society of America.