Is English Killing Other Languages?

| Mon Jun. 21, 2010 7:16 PM EDT

A couple of years ago, I worked on a campaign that fought to preserve dying native languages. There was one story of language loss that I’ve always found particularly interesting: The Euchee people, now living in Oklahoma, have only four remaining fluent speakers, and they are each over 70 years old. The situation is sad, to be sure, as the loss of indigenous languages is linked to the loss of cultural diversity and, it is thought, even biodiversity, since indigenous languages preserve important biological information about the regions in which they developed. When they are lost, so is that knowledge.

The Euchee case is not an anomaly: According to UNESCO, half of the world's more than 6,000 languages are spoken by fewer than 10,000 people—and half of those are spoken by fewer than 1,000. But practically speaking, I can’t help but wonder if, in the long term, it’s even possible to stop most of the world’s languages from being driven to extinction by English, Spanish, Chinese and the other dominant tongues of globalization.

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