Languages are living things, and all living things eventually die. From Abipon to Zhang-Zhung, countless thousands of languages have already flashed in and out of existence, and nearly 3,000 tongues that are spoken today won’t be spoken much longer.
While the death of an endangered language may not affect your day to day life, wordinc takes it seriously: Languages are our business and our passion, but more than that, they are reservoirs of a people’s collective identity. A single language captures a complete history, attitude, mindset, and value system of the culture from which it evolved. When it dies, so too does an entire way of experiencing the world. The death of a language shuts the door on a room that can never again be entered. Whatever texts and linguistic artifacts remain will suggest what it was like to live and think like the speakers of these languages, but, like photographs of a beautiful sunset, they are no substitute for the direct experience itself.
Here are five endangered European languages – five rooms whose doors may soon lock up for good.
1. Sorbian. Fewer and fewer children are being raised with this language, a cousin of Polish and Czech. It is spoken by roughly 7,000 Sorbs in the Lusatia region spread across Germany and Poland, where its use in schools and on the radio give it a fighting chance of survival for another half century or so.
2. North Frisian. Around 10,000 people on the islands along Germany’s northern coast speak one of North Frisian’s 10 dialects. As it can be heard almost exclusively in the homes of senior citizens, this language could be on its last legs. Its hope for a future lies in the younger generation that has recently taken an interest in it as a hallmark of their regional culture.
3. Breton. This Celtic language is spoken by roughly 200,000 people, most of whom live on the French peninsula of Brittany. Breton made its way from the British Isles to modern-day France around the ninth century, and as recently as about 75 years ago was a regionally popular tongue with over a million speakers. Sadly, it has yet to enjoy a revival, and could well lose its last native speakers in the next few decades.
4. The Sámi languages. Perhaps best known for their skill in herding reindeer, the Sámi have become an established minority in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Of the dozen or so regional dialects that have survived, some of them cling to existence with only 20 speakers. Such are the devastating effects of government oppression: The Sámi languages were banned from schools a century ago in an attempt to force the assimilation of the Sámi people. This led to the extinction of several Sámi languages, and although others will surely meet the same fate, there is a chance that the 20,000 speakers of Northern Sámi can breathe new life into their mother tongue.
5. Aragonese. This regional language of Spain was at one point the second most widely spoken language on the Iberian Peninsula after Spanish. Since reaching that peak, Aragonese has dwindled down to have the fewest native speakers (approximately 10,000) of any of Spain’s languages. But where there is life, there is hope, and the fiercely proud people in the Pyrenees valley of Aragon may one day pull their language back from the brink of extinction.
Whether it’s in a minority dialect or a major language of modern business, wordinc will help get your message across. Get a non-binding quote, email us for more information, or book a time for a phone call or personal visit. We look forward to hearing from you!