Revitalising endangered languages

Languages are considered endangered when their last fluent speakers reach old age and when children are no longer learning it as their primary tongue. The UNESCO Atlas of World Languages in Danger reveals that 18 of the world’s 2,464 officially ‘endangered’ languages have just one living speaker (Bishuo, spoken in Cameroon, for instance). With the exception of just three (Patwin, Tolowa and Wintu-Nomlaki, Native American languages found in California), these are all based in the so-called ‘global south’. The Handbook of Endangered Languages acknowledges that economic, political, cultural and social power is held by those who speak the ‘majority languages’ while those that don’t are often marginalised and under pressure to shift towards learning a more ‘global’ language.

Not all people experiencing language shift feel marginalised though. Many Nigerians, for example, happily embrace the use of English as a lingua franca, viewing it as progressive. Others however, see their native language as a significant marker of ethnic and national identity. Nigerian artist Adé Bantu expressed this in his song No More No Vernacular, a critique of the Nigerian school system which prohibits children from speaking indigenous languages.

Read more: Geographical

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