But do you know that there is another mass extinction going on at the same time? Just as with species, the world is now undergoing a massive extinction crisis of human languages and cultures. For the past several decades, anthropologists and linguists have been warning us about the tragedy of vanishing cultures and endangered languages, swept away by the rise of a global monoculture and dominant languages like English, Spanish, Chinese and Portuguese.
Up until very recently, though, we didn’t have any systematic information about the extent of this crisis. Researchers were relying on educated guesses, based on scattered reports in the literature telling us about this or that language on the brink as the last speakers pass away, or this or that indigenous culture under threat of assimilation. Now for the first time the work of Terralingua has provided quantitative evidence of what’s really happening.
Our Index of Linguistic Diversity (ILD) shows that since 1970 there has been a 20% decline in global linguistic diversity, as measured in terms of changes in the numbers of native speakers of each of the world’s languages. That is to say that more and more people are switching from the small languages to the more dominant ones, and that more and more of the small languages are not being transmitted to the younger generations.