Why Indigenous Languages Are Dying Around the World And Where They Are Being Preserved


As the world shrinks, so does its diversity it seems. Cultural homogenization is especially problematic for the preservation of indigenous languages as we continue to move toward a globally recognized lingua franca. Culture and history will determine whether native indigenous tongues either race toward extinction or manage to be soundly preserved. In any case, it is without question that they all are being forced to confront the issue head on. Here are some examples and background on where it’s a problem and how people are responding.

There are over 50 native languages spoken throughout the state of California, nearly all of which are taught in schools. Experts claim that languages that are not included in the education system are doomed to disappear within a matter of years. People living in countries where English is the official language are especially at risk of losing their native languages because of how globally significant English has become.

Australia is known to be a hotspot for endangered languages. The diversity of aboriginal languages is immense, and in some parts of the country, preservation is well managed, but in others it is rapidly diminishing. In some isolated villages, people still use their native language to speak to one another, which helps protect from the influence of English. Most people in these villages only have primitive writing skills. Apparently languages are well preserved in areas where there are limited levels of literacy because this forces tradition to be passed on orally.

In some parts of Australia researchers could only find a few people who were able to speak their native tongues fluently, but in reality they did not ever use them in every day life. Yet these instances are valuable as well, as there have been some organizations that have come together to reconstruct past aboriginal languages through research.

English, surprisingly, is only the second most spoken language in the world. There are over a billion speakers of Mandarin, most of whom are living in China. But it is as much English and Chinese as it is French and Spanish that are overshadowing indigenous languages. In Bolivia, for example, twice as many languages are spoken than in all of Europe combined. But similarly to in California, the lack of inclusion of these languages in the education system has caused many of them to be overpowered by the country’s official language, which of course is Spanish.

The threat here is generational. Normally, it simply is not worth it to younger generations to learn the languages of their ancestors. The relevance and significance of these endangered languages will decrease as more people are born into only learning the country’s official ones.

One conclusion we can draw from this all, is that the presence of an official language is what threatens smaller locally used languages. That is to say, it is the increasing population that only speaks the official language and nothing else. But in some countries, like Equatorial Guinea in West Africa for example, the official language is secondary for the entire population. In this case, all native tribal languages (and there are quite a few) are preserved, and the official language, which is Spanish, is only spoken as a means of communication with other tribes.

So what have we learned here? Well, unless you live in a country that is strictly inhabited by bilingual tribes that only use the official language for intertribal interactions, you probably will not have many more chances to learn an indigenous language. That said, all those other languages that are replacing them are becoming increasingly useful. If you’re interested in taking one of our language tests, you can contact us here.