Nearly 90% of world's spoken languages face extinction: UN

"There are around 6,000 to 7,000 oral languages in the world today, a great majority of which are spoken by indigenous people and many (if not most) of them are in danger of becoming extinct," said the first-ever UN report on 'State of the World's Indigenous Peoples'. According to the report, which was released globally recently, "most of these languages are spoken by very few people, while a handful of them are spoken by an overwhelming majority of the world".

"Roughly 90 per cent of all existing languages may become extinct within the next 100 years as about 97 per cent of the world's population speaks only 4 per cent of its languages, while only 3 per cent speaks 96 per cent of them". Dying languages are damaging the indigenous communities. While some indigenous peoples are successfully revitalising languages, many others are fighting a losing battle, where languages are simply no longer passed from one generation to the next.

It said, "Although it is estimated that indigenous peoples make up less than 6 per cent of the global population, they speak an overwhelming majority of the world's estimated 7,000 languages and are the stewards of some of the most biologically diverse areas accumulating an immeasurable amount of traditional knowledge about their ecosystems".

Most governments are aware of this language crisis but funding is often provided only for the recording of languages, while limited funds are diverted to language revitalisation programmes.

Language, furthermore, is not only a communication tool, it is often linked to the land or region traditionally occupied by indigenous people; it is an essential component of one’s collective and individual identity and therefore provides a sense of belonging and community. When the language dies, that sense of community is damaged, the report added.

The report also noted the remarkable contribution that indigenous people to cultural diversity across the globe. "Traditional languages, knowledge and resources have been managed by indigenous and local communities since time immemorial, using customary law embedded in spiritual cosmology" it added. "A great deal of traditional knowledge, including customary laws and folklore, has been undermined and destroyed by colonizers and post-colonial states who imposed their own systems of law, knowledge and worldviews on indigenous people."

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