September 18, 2007

One language vanishes every two weeks

Linguists alarmed at the unceasing extinction of many indigenous languages identified five global "hot spots" where the problem is worst, led by northern Australia and a region of South America. The linguists are part of the Enduring Voices project that seeks to document and revitalize languages slipping toward oblivion, often spoken by indigenous peoples like Australia's aborigines whose cultures were trampled by settlers.

There are 6,992 recognized distinct languages worldwide. On average one language vanishes every two weeks, often as its last elderly speakers perish. The project, backed by National Geographic magazine, named the region of northern Australia that includes Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia as the place where local languages are most threatened. Aboriginal Australia harbors some of the most endangered languages, with 153 different ones spoken in this region.

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