Endangered Languages

Kelash01

There are maybe over 6,800 known languages in the world today, and many more dialects. Already over 400 of these languages are close to extinction, with only a few elderly speakers left (Busuu in Cameroon, Chiapaneco in Mexico, Lipan Apache in the United States, Wadjigu in Australia, etc.) and 3,000 or so others are endangered. Linguists classify languages on a scale ranging from “safe” (learnt by all children in the group, and spoken by all its members) to “critically endangered” (only a few old speakers). On that scale, “endangered” comes in the middle, meaning that children no longer learn the language and only adults speak it.

One such endangered language is the language of the Kalash. It is a Dardic language belonging to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-Iranian group. Currently about 5,000 people speak Kalasha and is considered critically endangered by UNESCO.

Until the latter 20th century, Kalasha was an undocumented language. More recently, through the work of a Greek NGO and local Kalash elders seeking to preserve their oral traditions, a new Kalasha alphabet has been created. Taj Khan Kalash has also been influential in the development of the new alphabet and creating The Alphabet Book, a primer used to teach the alphabet to the Kalash children.

The Long Now Foundation, which is a foundation that focuses on thinking for the extended future, has began an extensive catalogue of the world’s languages. An article in the Wall Street Journal pointed to the fact that emerging technologies do not represent many of the world’s languages.”The idea of having your cultural identity represented in this technology is increasingly important.” If each language is a “window to the world”, when languages are lost so is the culture and wisdom of a people.

For more information on the Kalash, see here: http://kalashapeople.org/

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