8 Endangered Languages At Risk Of Becoming Extinct

Part of the beauty of language is how much it defines cultures, relationships and identities. But according to the United Nations, there are about 6,000 languages that are at risk of becoming extinct.

UNESCO declares a language to be endangered when its speakers stop using it or the language isn’t being passed down to the next generation. Endangered languages matter because if they become extinct, it can result in a permanent loss of unique cultural knowledge, as no two languages interpret the world in the same way. Despite many believing that loss of languages are inevitable on a planet that is rapidly evolving, experts say that preserving languages is no different than saving species or biodiversity from extinction. Efforts to save languages include creating dictionaries, recording oral stories and documenting histories and traditions. These attempts can often fail due to the difficult nature of finding these rare speakers, as they are often older in age, and are out of practice of speaking their native tongue. These pursuits are vital, as some linguists estimate that 90% of today’s languages will disappear in the next century. Here are some of the rarest languages around the world.

1. Tanema

Tanema, also known as Tetau or Tetawo, exists only on the island of Vanikoro in the easternmost province of the Solomon Islands. As of 2012, this language has only one native speaker, making it nearly extinct.

2. Taushiro

Spoken by a tribe that vanished into the jungles of the Amazon basin in Peru, this language also has only one native speaker left. The Taushiros were some of the last hunter-gatherers, and has a simple counting system that only goes up to ten, anything more than that is simply referred to as “many.”  

3. Chamicuro

Originated in a Peruvian area called Pampa Hermosa, meaning “beautiful plains,” this indigenous American language is spoken by a mere eight people. Though a Chamicuro dictionary was created, no children speak the language because they all shifted to Spanish.  

4. Njerep

Native to Cameroon, this language is essentially extinguished, because the few that speak it cannot speak it fully. Mostly used to maintain secrecy, the youngest speaker of this language is about 60 years old.

5. Ongota

12 people speak this dying language in Ethiopia, a country that is home to at least 85 different tongues. Ongota, also called Birale, began to disappear as it was necessary for the tribe to merge with neighboring communities in order to survive.

6. Liki

Spoken on the islands of the Papua province in Indonesia, this Austronesian language is also known as Moar. It’s nearly gone, with one of only two commonly known words being “mata”, translating as “to undergo death.”

7. Kawishana

Also known as Cawishana or Kaishana, this Arawakan language of Brazil is presumably extinct. It was once a popular language utilized by many, but throughout the 19th and 20th century many speakers transitioned to Portuguese. A handful of speakers were reported in the 1950s, but only one documented person remains able to speak the language.

8. Paakantyi

Paakantyi means “river people”, because it is an Australian aboriginal language that is spoken alongside the Darling River. Most of the dialects are now obsolete, and in 2006 there were only 22 speakers documented.

To learn more about endangered languages and how to prevent them from disappearing, please visit UNESCO.

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