The Enduring Voices Project, which I came across today on the National Geographic website, has the aims of documenting endangered languages and preventing language extinction by identifying the most crucial areas where languages are endangered and embarking on expeditions to:
Understand the geographic dimensions of language distribution
Determine how linguistic diversity is linked to biodiversity
Bring wide attention to the issue of language loss
There’s a map on the site which shows the areas of the world with a particular high density of endangered languages, and also provides information about the languages and a few recordings. The ‘hotspots’ on the map are colour coded to give an idea of the severity of the problems. The areas with the most endangered languages are northern Australia, eastern and central Siberia, central South America, and the northwest Pacific plateau of North America.
Here are a few random factoids from the site:
The Yukaghir people (Siberia, 30-150 speakers) traditionally measured time with a unit called ‘the kettle boiled,’ about an hour long. A longer interval was called ‘the frozen kettle boiled,’ which took about 90 minutes.
Tuvan (200,000 speakers) has a word that means ‘the two wives of my two brothers.’ If you had three brothers, or one of your two brothers was unmarried, you would never use this word.
A noun in Tabassaran (95,000 speakers, Dagestan (Russia)) may have up to 53 distinct forms, using suffixes that describe the location and movement of objects in relation to that noun.