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Endangered Languages?

March 7, 2017
Jung Yeon Lee  University High School 11th Grade

Jung Yeon Lee
University High School 11th Grade

What do giant pandas, whooping cranes, and snow leopard have in common? They are some of the most endangered species around the world living in contemporary society. Although they are disappearing at alarming rates, the extinction of many species is not an unusual phenomenon. Sadly, the advancements of the human race have lead to the disappearances of animals throughout decades. However, would you believe that languages also face the danger of extinction?

In fact, endangered languages have already long been recognized and protected since 1999. In 1999, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) has proclaimed the 21st of February as the “International Mother Language Day(IMLD).” They wanted to promote diversity of languages and to protect languages in danger in its 30th General Conference. Since then, UNESCO has been striving to conduct campaigns and commemoratives events annually as a means of raising awareness regarding languages across the world. This year, UNESCO has presented its theme: “Towards sustainable futures through multilingual education.” UNESCO is currently working hard in order to encourage people to learn multiple languages because it can open up a window of understanding. As implied from the theme the goal is to expand knowledge of various languages as it will bring a positive change as our children come in contact with various cultures which may thereby advance world peace.

Despite UNESCO’s efforts, a major problem facing their goal is the current increasing trend of the number of languages facing danger. According to the “Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger” published by UNESCO, it is said that at least 43% of languages spoken in the world are endangered. UNESCO measures endangerment in terms of intergenerational transmission. The organization divides the degree of endangerment by five different colors: white for vulnerable, yellow for definitely endangered, orange for severely endangered, red for critically endangered, black for extinct. By looking at the map and the pie graph, we can indicate the numerous languages that have the potential of becoming extinct or have already become extinct. The emphasis on the map definitely has to be the ceaseless number of indications made by the back marks. This shows that various world’s languages have already disappeared in the midst of history’s makings and therefore left no traces of its culture or heritage for the world to know be informed about. It is very disconcerting considering that these languages are going extinct in places that are close to our homes like the one in Asia with Jeju Island’s local dialect in South Korea almost going extinct. However, it is not just one location, everyone across the globe is experiencing this.

Before it’s too late, global society should now turn its head toward the protection of culturally valuable languages that have been inherited for centuries. Contemporaries place high values on the assets of language that people get. By protecting these means we are also protecting the ideas and wisdom that our generation and the next could benefit from. Thus, we should regard language as one of the many vital resources to retain. Nelson Mandela once said, “Without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry, or savour their songs”. The more awareness and attention that people put into our languages, the more valuable lessons from history and culture will be passed on for the benefit of next centuries to come.

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