We Translate On Time

The Extinction of Languages

February 20th, 2020

There are around 6,500 languages in the world and roughly a third of these have less than 1000 speakers each.  Linguists have estimates that at least 31,000 languages have existed throughout history.  Likewise, there are about 100 common popular languages spoken in the world. With the dominance of only a handful of languages taking charge we must ask ourselves what is the future of these less popular languages? One could argue that globalisation and the creation of the internet has meant the need for lesser known languages has diminished. This is a result of an increased demand for global communication and many of those less spoken languages have needed to adapt to be able to maintain these newly established connections all around the world. It is essential for minority speaking langauge cultures to speak English in order to survive in the global world of today.  

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), half of all languages in existence will disappear by the end of the 21st century. People living in the world’s major cities will most likely speak English, especially the younger generations. It is generally the rural areas that stick to their roots. Nevertheless, urbanisation and booming population growth could further interfere with linguistic diversity.

On the other hand, certain people believe that the online world can help preserve and even expand the linguistic diversity that is ‘destined’ to shrink. Lenore Grenoble believes that the internet offers a platform for the lesser known languages to spread and promote their identity. For example, all you need is a twitter account to reach a potential 145 million daily users. Obviously, global recognition is not the aim. Instead, having an online platform of speakers of the same language would help people listen, speak or communicate in their birth language.

We cannot deny that a lot of these languages will disappear, yet as an international community, we have a duty to help as many of the lesser known languages survive. Just because English is the bridge between cultures that don’t speak the same languages, it doesn’t necessarily mean we have to discard every other language.




by Thomas Deighton