Current estimates are that there are about 7,000 languages spoken today. Probably half of them will be extinct by the end of the century.
The pattern is an old one. Younger generations find more utility in a more widely spoken language, and neglect their old one, and a third generation abandons it entirely.
For example, Bo, a language spoken in the Andaman Islands (in the Indian Ocean) died in 2010 along with its last speaker. More widely spoken languages offer economic opportunity and social mobility. Spanish replaced many languages in Latin America and English did the same in North America, as did Swahili in East Africa.
What is lost when a language dies? Languages often have evolved over many centuries in the same area, giving the language an intimate familiarity with a region and its weather, ecosystem and geography.
Some linguists see language loss as wiping out an entire culture’s memory and approach to life. Other linguists see the loss of languages spoken only by a few people as inevitable, and argue that switching to a widely spoken regional or world language prevents people from becoming imprisoned in the museum of their doomed language.
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