A thousand of languages dying a slow death

Languages shape a culture, are the muse of art, and live deep under the skin of science. With over six thousand languages, multicultural world becomes a beautiful garden where every language and culture defines a community, a precious flower blooming and blossoming. As all flowers in the garden are not eternal, all languages, too, are not meant for eternity. And, this sad truth is marked by the death of Ouma Aenki Kassie in 2013 when the N|uu language of South Africa also died only to be never spoken again.

Language extinction is the phenomenon when the native speakers either die or they don’t speak the language anymore, leading to its slow death. It does not take place overnight, but yes, it happens fast driven by social, political, and economic factors. Where we might think that language extinction barely affects us and the world, it completely turns the world upside down. The cultural heritage and pride that each community hails get lost in the ashes of the language. Such is the fate of the ancient knowledge of medicinal herbs, creation of mankind, talents and myths also.

Over 7.5 billion people live in the world that speaks more than six thousand languages.  According to British linguist, David Crystal, one out of many indigenous languages is going extinct in every three months. The main reason behind the language extinction is that languages other than English, French, Spanish, and German are not being passed on to the generations. The future of precious and endangered languages such as Manipur’s Tarao Naga, Himachal’s Pangwali, Tamil Nadu’s Kota or Algeria’s Tasnusit, China’s Mak is bleak if we do not revitalise the language by teaching it to our generations and increasing its awareness.

Preserving languages to bring the forgotten culture back to life

The pace at which languages are going extinct is a clarion’s call for all. In the world 4.0, what we truly need to feel alive is cultural diversity. Few people and organisations have noticed the elephant in the room and taken initiative to restore the languages. Google’s Endangered Languages Project and the Government of India’s scheme called “Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages of India” are appreciable initiatives in the same direction. There are many other organisations and institutions in India and worldwide that aggressively work on protection and documentation of all mother tongue languages that have less than 10,000 speakers.

At a personal level, even we as individuals can also contribute to the preservation of our languages by teaching our kids the languages through all the rhymes, tales, and legends of a community that are closely linked with the native language. In older times, the elderly used to narrate these cultural stories to the kids, passing on the language, its heritage and legacy to them. Only documentation of language in anthology and dictionary is not going to help as immensely as oral traditions can and should.

George Steiner, the linguist critic, rightly wrote, “When a language dies, a way of understanding the world dies with it, a way of looking at the world.” Keeping it alive is not only your job or mine, but it’s ours! Even if we don’t belong to a specific language community, we all can prevent it from dying a slow and painful death so that some others can save ours when in danger.