Marcelo Dascal
Endangered Languages

5. What is an endangered language?

What is an endangered language?

Is TWENDI, a Bantu language spoken
in Cameroon by 35 speakers - - the
youngest being 45 years old - -
endangered ?

Is WELSH, a Celtic language spoken
in Wales by half a million speakers,
including many infants, an endangered
language ?

Is QUECHUA, a Quechuan language
spoken in the Andes by about one
million speakers - - whose number is
rapidly dwindling - - an endangered
language ?

Here are some criteria for characterizing an "endangered language".



These criteria define the danger of EXTINCTION for living languages. I would add to this the danger faced by the languages spoken by immigrant or other minority communities -- even if they remain alive and well in other countries.

Immigrant and Minority Languages

The Totonaca refused to send their children to a bilingual school. They claimed that their children learn Totonaca at home. What they need at school is to learn Spanish - the language they need in order to improve their lives.

Many Ethiopians who came to Israel were immediately drawn into the 'melting pot' by crash Hebrew courses. They even had their names changed to Hebrew names, in some cases.

And there is also the danger of "re-extinction" of already extinct languages.

This way seem paradoxical, but it isn't. A huge collective effort lies behind every case of an extinct language that 'comes alive' as an object of research : the collection, storage and classification of inscriptions, documents, historical evidence; decipering of storage writing systems; linguistic analysis of these materials; etc.

If not transmitted from generation to generation of scientists, the complex abilities required to cope with each extinct language will disappear, leading to the language's 're-extinction' ?


due to


Let us now go back to the question of whether there should be language diversity and multiplicity or not:

Are 6000 languages too many or too few?

Chapter 6

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