Chinese minority languages among those at risk of dying out, with no one left to speak them, study finds

Dozens of languages and dialects in China are in danger of disappearing, a new study has found.

According to the study by website WordFinder, based on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 25 of China’s spoken languages are “critically endangered”.

This puts it seventh in the world behind the United States, with 82 languages critically endangered), Brazil, with 45, Australia, with 42, India (41), Indonesia (32) and Canada (30).

“Languages are about more than vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar,” says WordFinder editor Michael Kwan. “Languages provide insight into how a cultural group views and interacts with the world around them, as well as the history of the people in a particular area.”

The latest census (2009-2013), released last month, revealed that 28 per cent of critically endangered languages are spoken in just three countries – the US (which accounts for 13.5 per cent), Brazil (7.4 per cent) and Australia (6.9 per cent) – and that they and seven other countries account for more than half of the critically endangered languages in the world.

The study found that more than 291 million people aged five and over speak only English at home in the US, with only 45 using the critically endangered Chinook Jargon, an indigenous language originating as a pidgin (or simplified) trade language used in the Pacific northwest.

In Australia, more than 17 million people speak only English (around 73 per cent of the population) at home compared to just 156 people who speak the Aboriginal Miriwoong language (0.00066 per cent). Fewer than 20 of those speak it fluently.

Language experts say the decline in minority languages is an unwelcome trend being felt across the globe.

Read more: South China Morning Post

In Singapore, Chinese Dialects Revive After Decades of Restrictions

The Tok and Teo families are a model of traditional harmony, with three generations gathered under one roof, enjoying each other’s company over slices of fruit and cups of tea on a Saturday afternoon in Singapore.

There is only one problem: The youngest and oldest generations can barely communicate with each other.

Lavell, 7, speaks fluent English and a smattering of Mandarin Chinese, while her grandmother, Law Ngoh Kiaw, prefers the Hokkien dialect of her ancestors’ home in southeastern China. That leaves grandmother and granddaughter looking together at a doll house on the floor, unable to exchange more than a few words.

“She can’t speak our Hokkien,” Mrs. Law said with a sigh, “and doesn’t really want to speak Mandarin, either.”

This struggle to communicate within families is one of the painful effects of the Singapore government’s large-scale, decades-long effort at linguistic engineering.

Starting with a series of measures in the late 1970s, the leaders of this city-state effectively banned Chinese dialects, the mother tongues of about three-quarters of its citizens, in favor of Mandarin, China’s official language.

A few years later, even Mandarin usage was cut back in favor of the global language of commerce, English.

Read more: NY Times