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20 more languages extinct by 2021?

Linguists estimate that humans use around 7,000 languages. Only a few are considered global or widespread languages. The others, although spoken by small regional groups, are often key to the identity and heritage of their respective cultures.

Only 102 languages are considered "International" or "National" and are spoken by 60% of the world's population, despite comprising only 1.4% of all documented modern languages. Globalization, including internet connectivity, international trade, and international travel elevate the importance of these top languages, particularly the six languages with the most speakers: Chinese, Spanish, English, Arabic, Hindi, and Portuguese.

Globalization can endanger languages as well because rising generations learn regional and national languages instead of local or traditional dialects. Estimates of endangered languages range from around 20% to around 50% of all documented languages. Hundreds of languages have already been lost, and the current language death rate is between four and six languages per year. Ethnologue, an annual report on language status, reports that 360 languages reported as "living" in their first 1951 report have since been classified as "extinct." 423 languages are considered "nearly extinct," meaning that the only user are aging speakers who have little opportunity to use the language in everyday life.

But technology can also help preserve and revitalize languages, with digital documentation and language resources aiming to save some of the most critically endangered languages. Linguists also track languages that are "reawakening," including seven in the United States currently enjoying a resurgence.

Will language loss rates increase by the end of the decade?

This question will resolve as positive if the 2021 edition of Ethnologue lists more than 380 extinct languages since 1951, which would indicate a language loss rate greater than four per year, and an acceleration in language loss.


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