Languages on the Brink: Bringing Back Endangered Tongues

Have you ever heard of the Kallawaya, Passamaquoddy, or Koro languages? Though they are spoken in very different parts of the world, they have something in common: they are all endangered.

While more than three-quarters of the world’s population speak the 85 most popular languages, which sounds like a lot, there are actually about 7,000 languages spoken throughout the world today. Unfortunately, one goes extinct about every two weeks. Even some tongues that you might have heard of, including Hawaiian, Welsh, and Yiddish, are considered endangered.

This year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., which just concluded, held the One World, Many Voices program to raise awareness about these endangered languages and the people and cultures they belong to. The program brought together people from around the world who speak an endangered language, including Zapotec speakers from Mexico, Kalmyk speakers from Russia, and Siletz Dee-Ni speakers from Oregon. Festival-goers could learn from these people and about their unique languages and cultural backgrounds.

If you missed the event at Folklife, learn about the program participants using the “Language Communities” section of the One World, Many Voices website. Or hear snippets of the participating languages being spoken using the Endangered Languages Story Map. Finally, be sure to check out these related Science NetLinks resources:

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