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Why do languages disappear?

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Posted September 5, 2014
Picture: The Conversation (painting). Source: sothebys.com

Picture: The Conversation (painting). Source: sothebys.com

Rare languages are dying out faster than species. However, causes driving these processes are still poorly understood. According to a study, which was recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, instances of language extinction are often reinforced by economic growth. This discovery allows authors of the study to forecast what speeches will disappear soon.

Although many policy makers admit that death of many old languages is a serious problem and numerous organizations are concerned with this issue, lack of knowledge considerably hinders attempts to preserve rare speeches. “For example, although globalization has been regarded as an important factor behind language endangerment, there has been little research effort worldwide to quantify the overall impact of globalization on endangered languages,” scientists say. An international team of researchers led by Tatsuya Amano at Cambridge University investigated what is the association between extinction risk and various environmental factors.

The scientists identified geographical regions where most of threatened languages reside. “Hotspots of threatened language richness were particularly evident in the tropics, the Himalayas, northern Australia, eastern Eurasia and northern Russia/Scandinavia, and northwestern North America,” they report. But what is common between all these places scattered across the globe? Amano and his colleagues found out that they are often characterised by rapid economic growth. They think that speeches employed by small populations are endangered by rapid economic development. This explanation is also supported by the fact that economically developed regions, such as North America and Australia, have already experienced many language extinctions, most probably due to the negative impact of economic, and associated political and educational, developments.

The scholars predict that rates of extinction will be very high at such places as the Himalayas and Tropics, because not only large number of rare languages is concentrated there, but also GDP rates of local economies are considerably rising. In addition, they think that more attention should be focused on rare speeches remaining in North America and Australia as their use is declining fastly.

Article: Amano T., Sandel B., Eager H., Bulteau E., Svenning J-C., Dalsgaard B., Rahbek C., Davies R.G., Sutherland W.J., 2014, Global distribution and drivers of language extinction risk. Proceedings of Royal Society B., source link.

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