The 10 Most Endangered Languages in the World

The 10 Most Endangered Languages in the World
The 10 Most Endangered Languages in the World
Most people worldwide take for granted the major languages spoken in their classrooms and places of business. For every verbal juggernaut such as English or Spanish, there exists plenty more whose very existence hinges on a single individual. Some ethnographers and linguistics experts posit that a new language — usually an indigenous one threatened by cultural (if not outright colonial) hegemonies — phases quietly into extinction every two weeks. An eerie thought, to be certain, and one that reminds everyone of their own human fragility and evolution. Mandarin may boast over 845 million primary speakers, but centuries (millennia?) from now may exist as nothing more than a gossamer memory confined to obscure linguistics literature.

All research comes courtesy of UNESCO, The Christian Science Monitor, Ethnologue and The Language Database.

Apiaca: Also referred to as Apiaka, Apiake, and Apiaca, these Brazilian peoples find their language and way of life threatened by the gradual creep of Portuguese into the Mato Grosso region. Considered a subgroup of Tupi (specifically Tupi-Guarani), the language only appears to have one remaining speaker in 2007. This in spite of an ethnic population hovering around 192 people.

Bikya: Unfortunately, this possible Furu (which seems to be an alternate nomenclature) language might actually be extinct without ethnographers knowing it. The last contact with the only known Biyka speaker occurred in 1986. Disconcerting to be certain, as the remaining speaker also happened to be the last known Bikya in Cameroon.

Taje: This Austronesian language, also known as Petapa, was apparently only spoken by one person in 2000. It’s entirely plausible that it may have tragically passed into extinction since then, but no linguist or ethnographer knows for certain. The Taje peoples number in the 350s currently, most (if not all) practicing the Islamic faith in the Sulawesi region.

Dampelas: UNESCO claims that only one of the 10,300 Dampelas peoples spoke the Austronesian language as of 2000 — meaning it may very well be extinct by now. Also referred to as Dampal, Dian and Dampelasa, it makes its home in eight Indonesian (Sulawesi) villages.

Diahoi: As of 2006, Diahoi hung by a gossamer thread, with one speaker to its credit. Hailing from the Amazon region of Brazil, Diahoi is also known as Jiahui, Jahoi, Djahui, Diahkoi and Diarroi. Because of the isolated location, linguists and ethnographers don’t know for certain whether or not this critically endangered language has become officially extinct.

Kaixana: The last known individual to boast Kaixana as his primary language was Raimundo Avelino. He was 78 as of 2008, living in the Limoeiro, Amazonas, Brazil, and seems to still be kicking around as of February 2011. As far as ethnographers and linguists know, he is the last of the Kaixana speakers.

Laua: The last of the Laua continues to speak the language and live the traditional lifestyle in the Central Province of Papua New Guinea. It stems from the Trans-New Guinea family (specifically Mailuan), and might actually be extinct already. The last contact ethnographers and linguists had with the individual occurred in 2000.

Yamana: In an isolated pocket near Chile’s Beagle Canal Naval Base lives Cristina Calderon, the last full-blooded Yamana. The language she speaks is threatened by the encroach of Spanish, and also goes by Hasui Kuta, Tequenica, Yagan and Yaghan. Interestingly enough, it seems to have evolved largely separate from others, though Qawasqar and Siane share some similarities.

Kulon-Pazeh: Various Sinitic dialects popularly spoken in Taiwan endangered Kulon-Pazeh (also known as Kulun) to the point it went officially extinct after the 2010 death of Pan Jin-yu. She worked fiercely to educate her peoples in their native tongue, so it continues to hobble along as a second language rather than a primary. However, the overall outlook remains grim, especially considering its status as a "home language" since the 1930s.

Pemono: Little is known of this indigenous Venezuelan language other than the location of its last contacted speaker in Majagua. It may already be extinct without anyone even realizing.

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