by Jeffrey Nelson of LivingBilingual.com
There are over 6,000 diverse languages spoken throughout the world and over half of them have less than 10,000 people that still speak the language fluently. For many, language is an identity and the loss of that dialect almost always spells the end of a specific culture. Of the more than 3,000 seriously endangered languages, there a few on the list that might surprise you ...
Aloha Hawaiian! As many know, aloha means both "hello" and "goodbye" depending on the context, and in this case, both definitions work. Until the year 2000, the Hawaiian language was spoken by as little as 2,000 native speakers and its demise was the result of colonialism and English replacing Hawaiian as the primary spoken and written language in the islands. In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in Hawaiian and the number of speakers has drastically increased as the state has created programs bringing the language back into the mainstream.
When most people think of the inhabitants of the Japanese isles, they think of the dominant Yamato ethnic group, but a people now known as the Ainu were a native tribe in the northern Japanese isles. Today, there are less than 25,000 ethnic Ainu left, and of those less than 100 are native Ainu speakers.
Jeru is a language that is spoken in the Andaman Islands, located just south of Burma in the Indian Ocean. It is only spoken by about 20 individuals, but it is important as it is an ancient language that has been spoken for thousands of years and allegedly is linked to the first human migrants to come out of Africa.
The Carabayo, also known as the Yuri, is a tribe in the Columbian Amazon that has had relatively little contact with the outside world and is considered a protected tribe by the Columbian government. There is only an estimated 150 native speakers, but very little is known of the mysterious language as outsiders are not permitted to speak with the tribe, but only observe them by flying overhead in planes.
While you may argue that Klingon is a fictional language, Star Trek fans everywhere are willing to fight to the death to defend its honor. I doubt Gene Roddenberry imagined that an invented language would become so popular, but as L.L. Zamenhof discovered with Esperanto, and as Tolkien did with Elvish, fictional languages can become more popular than ones that evolved naturally. Today, there are about 30 fluent Klingon speakers, and the number seems destined to grow as several companies have popped up advertising language courses in the fabricated dialect.
Many languages with a limited number of speakers exist in the world. Of the 6,000+ languages, there are about 10 languages that comprise almost half of the all the native speakers in the world. Among them, there are several languages; ranging from the easy-to-learn (Spanish) to the incredibly hard to learn (Mandarin Chinese). Difficulty aside, the language world is shrinking and the writing is on the wall for thousands of languages that are on the brink of extinction.
Language Facts Reference: http://www.ethnologue.com
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