Hundreds of languages face extinction
PARIS - Only one native speaker of Livonian remains on Earth, in Latvia. The Alaskan language Eyak went extinct last year when its last surviving speaker passed away.
Those are two of the nearly 2,500 languages that UNESCO says are in danger of becoming extinct or have recently disappeared. That is out of a total of 6,000 world languages.
In a presentation yesterday of a new world atlas of endangered languages, linguists stressed the list is not restricted to small or far-flung countries. They also sought to encourage immigrants to treasure their native languages.
"Language endangerment is a universal phenomenon," said Christopher Moseley, an Australian linguist who edited the third edition of the atlas, which is to appear in digital and paper versions.
The atlas says 200 languages have become extinct in the last three generations, and another 199 languages have fewer than 10 speakers left.
More than a fourth of the 192 languages once spoken in the United States have disappeared. Another 71 are severely endangered, according to the atlas.
There is Gros Ventre, spoken by fewer than 10 people in north-central Montana. All are elderly, and none is fully fluent. The last fully fluent speaker died in 1981.
Or Menomonee, spoken in northeast Wisconsin, with just 35 speakers left.
The digital version of the atlas invites users to contribute with updates and allows them to search according to country, degree of endangerment, name of languages, or by number of speakers.
For example, if a user types in "Russia," color-coded flags appear ranging from white (unsafe) - denoting languages such as Lezgian, spoken in the Caucasus Mountains - to red (critically endangered), marking those such as the Tundra Enets, spoken in Arctic islands.