Disappearing Languages



 Renowned linguists of the world have determined that at least 50% of the world’s languages will become extinct by 2050. UNESCO is spearheading the effort to save approximately 3,000 languages, some with as few as seven speakers. My girlfriend in high school was in a group who created their own language and they had ten speakers. Is UNESCO trying to save that language also?


Many linguists use the Central Siberian Yupik as an example. Yupik is a part of the Eskimo-Aleut language family which is native to Alaska, Arctic Canada and the Chukchi Peninsula of Siberia. One of the travesties of this dilemma is that the Eskimos have more than 100 words for “snow,” which would be lost if Yupik went away. That doesn’t impress many people.  In English, there are over 150 words for “sex”. If the Eskimos must abandon all those words for crystallized water-ice, they probably wouldn’t be as upset if they found that their new language would allow them to be more descriptive in their sexual communications.



Another Siberian group, the Tuvan people, who are closely related in language to the Yupik, may lose their language also. One of the concerns regarding the Tuvans is they have an epic poem which recounts the trials and tribulations of a young girl. She must conceal her gender and take the identity of her dead brother to embark on a difficult quest. Her ultimate goal is to restore her brother’s life armed only with her wits, magical powers and a clever talking horse. Maybe they could be appeased by having J.K. Rowling incorporate her into the Harry Potter series. Throw in Mr. Ed and I think the Tuvans may be delighted with the upgrade.


One thing that is abundantly clear from the linguists’ warnings is that many of these language groups live in the subarctic region of Russia, which typically has month-long summers. These bone-chilled people must recognize that the continuation of any culture is through dissemination by their youth. Consequently, the young people of Siberia are looking to move to a region where there’s a chance summer will last longer than a weekend.  My guess is that the Yupik and Tuvan youth are moving to Georgia, as are the youth of Buffalo, New York. The elders of these groups should join them and leave subarctic temperature to the polar bears. Then they could kvetch their youth into remaining fluent in their native languages. That strategy has worked wonders in the southern part of the U.S.


UNESCO is doing a splendid job of making the world aware of the problem of vanishing languages and they are certainly proactive in their efforts to find a solution before the Yupik language suffers the same fate as Sumerian, the extinct Mesopotamian language. No one saved the Sumerian language, but we still have the Epic of Gilgamesh and that was saved without J.K. Rowling adding a flood to Harry Potter or the insertion of a clown-fish named Nemo.