FAQ about Endangered Languages
- Q What qualifies a language to be considered as
an "endangered" one?
- A. In most general terms, it means that parents
are no longer teaching the language to their children and are not
using it actively in everyday matters.
- Q Of the present over 6,900 languages listed in
the Ethnologue, how many are "endangered"?
- A Estimates vary, but it is clear that hundreds
of languages will not be passed on to the next generation. There is
also some feeling among linguists who have considered the situation
that perhaps over half of the world's languages are in this position.
However, there is a lack of consistent evidence to always identify
what linguists or news journalists mean by claiming that many languages
are in an "endangered" state.
- Q Why does a language become "endangered"?
- A Factors that contribute to this condition are
the small number of speakers, their ages, whether or not children
are using the language, the use of other languages regularly in various
cultural settings, feelings of ethnic identity and attitudes about
their language in general, the urban drift of the (often younger)
population, government and church policies, the language(s) used in
education, as well as economic intrusion and exploitation. The language
may also lack compelling influences to maintain its integrity, such
as an alphabet, a body of literature, and dynamic users who read and
write it. The language may also lack prestige and the passionate support
of its speakers.
- Q One of SIL's guiding principles is that "no
language is too small." How does that statement fit with language
- A This principle affirms SIL's support of speakers
of even smaller and lesser known language groups who may become proactive
in language revitalization efforts. Over the years SIL has worked
in language groups with only a few hundred speakers, groups that looked
as if their language was dying out. Today many of these languages
are thriving. SIL does not automatically conclude that a small language
is not worth the effort for language development.
- Q What criteria does SIL suggest as a guide to
determine if language development is needed in a particular language
- A The criteria are many, but the interest, requests,
participation and decisions of the leaders of a particular language
group are crucial. Various options may be proposed, but SIL exists
to serve the people, as well as to help governments and churches in
their efforts in language development.
- Q How can I learn more about endangered languages?
- A Check our Endangered
Languages page for more reading about endangered languages and
the list of other resources for
links to outside resources. Also see Nearly Extinct Languages on
the web version of the Ethnologue.