Language endangerment occurs when a language is at risk of falling out of use as its speakers die out or shift to speaking another language. Language loss occurs when the language has no more native speakers, and becomes a dead language. If eventually no one speaks the language at all, it becomes an extinct language. While languages have always gone extinct throughout human history, they are currently disappearing at an accelerated rate due to the processes of globalization and neo-colonialism, where the economically powerful languages dominate other languages.
The more commonly spoken languages dominate the less commonly spoken languages and therefore, the less commonly spoken languages eventually disappear from populations. The total number of languages in the world is not known. Estimates vary depending on many factors. The general consensus is that there are between 6,000 and 7,000 languages currently spoken, and that between 50-90% of those will have become extinct by the year 2100. The top 20 languages spoken by more than 50 million speakers each, are spoken by 50% of the world's population, whereas many of the other languages are spoken by small communities, most of them with less than 10,000 speakers.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) operates with five levels of language endangerment: "safe", "vulnerable" (not spoken by children outside the home), "definitely endangered" (not spoken by children), "severely endangered" (only spoken by the oldest generations), "critically endangered" (spoken by few members of the oldest generation, often semi-speakers). Notwithstanding claims that the world would be better off if most adopted a single common lingua franca such as English or Esperanto, there is a general consensus that the loss of languages harms the cultural diversity of the world. It is a common belief, going back to the biblical narrative of the tower of Babel that linguistic diversity causes political conflict, but this belief is contradicted by the facts that many of the world's major episodes of violence have taken place in situations with low linguistic diversity, such as the Yugoslav and American Civil Wars, or the genocides of Nazi Germany and Rwanda, whereas many of the most stable political units have been highly multilingual.
Many projects under way are aimed at preventing or slowing this loss by revitalizing endangered languages and promoting education and literacy in minority languages. Across the world many countries have enacted specific legislation aimed at protecting and stabilizing the language of indigenous speech communities. A minority of linguists have argued that language loss is a natural process that should not be counteracted, and that documenting endangered languages for posterity is sufficient.
Other articles related to "language endangerment, language, languages":
... Generally the accelerated pace of language endangerment is considered to be a problem by linguists and by the speakers ... some linguists, such as the late phonetician Peter Ladefoged, have argued that language death is a natural part of the process of human cultural development, and that languages die because communities ... Ladefoged argued that linguists should simply document and describe languages scientifically, but not seek to interfere with the processes of language loss ...
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Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.”
—T.S. (Thomas Stearns)