The Global Language Network is proud to have offered classes in almost 60 languages since 2005. Of course, as proud as we are of that number, 60 is just a drop in the world’s rich linguistic sea. Linguists have estimated that there are anywhere between 5,000 and 7,000 languages spoken in the world today. Sadly, as beautiful and remarkable as that fact may be, most of these languages are not expected to survive the century. Many linguists estimate that somewhere around half of the languages in the world today will not make it to the year 2100.
As an organization committed to openly sharing language and culture, this is certainly an issue we think should be more widely discussed and addressed. As the world becomes increasingly integrated, the languages and cultures of powerful groups gain more and more influence over less powerful groups. Even back in 2007, the New York Times reported that at least 80% of the world’s population spoke or wrote at least one of the 82 languages with “global influence.” As these global languages become more influential, other languages – especially indigenous languages – are being lost at a pace of about one every two weeks.
The Linguistics Society of America remarks that whenever language dies, whether willingly or by force, it is always in the face of outside pressure. This may include indigenous communities that are expressly forbidden to formally teach their languages in order to force cultural integration. It also includes communities that simply don’t pass along their unique languages, as social or economic pressures from the influence of mass media to urbanization and corporatization make outside languages more present or attractive. And when languages die they take a great deal with them: markers of cultural identity, customs and traditions, stories and literature, unique ways of envisioning the world, and even different forms of knowledge itself.
Of course, we need not be so gloomy, because modern technology is making it possible like never before to preserve and share languages around the world. The Endangered Languages Project is a great example, compiling videos and resources from individuals who want to preserve their languages and share them with others online. Now, not to toot our own horn, but we at the Global Language Network like to think that we can be part of the solution as well. When you learn or teach a language, whether it’s Spanish or Balochi, sure you’re gaining new skills or making your resume more attractive. But more than that you’re helping to preserve and grow the cultural richness of the world.