Top Five Rarest Languages
Posted on March 10, 2014 by Chris
Imagine being the only person left on earth who speaks your language, knowing that when you die that language will become extinct and will never be heard again.
There are many languages where this scenario is a real possibility. The United Nations estimate that around 6,000 languages are at risk of extinction, due to their absorption into other languages, the influence of outsiders and the aging population who take the language with them when they die. UNESCO have set up the Endangered Languages Programme to try and support the continuation and preservation of rare languages. Here we look at just five of the world’s most endangered languages.
Njerep is only spoken in Nigeria, having now become extinct in neighbouring Cameroon. It is a Bantoid language, mostly to be found near the Mambila region, where it replaced the equally rarified Bo and Mvop languages. Notwithstanding, there are now only four people who speak Njerep left, according to anthropologists who conducted a study in 2007. Most of those who speak the language are elderly, so the chances of Njerep surviving are extremely slim.
Described as a ‘Uto-Aztecan, Northern Uto-Aztecan, Numic, Southern’ ,this Midwest US language is also dying out, with only three fully fluent people remaining in the Chemehuevi tribe. If you want to talk to the remaining Chemehuevi speakers you could try striking up a conversation about the natural world around you. Try mahav (tree), tittvip (soil), kaiv (mountain) or hucip (ocean). You may not understand the reply however.
Kaixana or Caixana
Once spoken widely in an area near the Japura River in Brazil, Cawishana (Kawishana, Kaiʃana) suffered a decline after the arrival of Portuguese settlers. From 200 fluent speakers, there remains only one person speaking the language, as of 2006.
Taushiro – or Pinche
In 2008, researchers established that there was only one remaining fluent speaker of the Taushiro language, which is all but extinct in Peru. It is the language spoken mainly in the region of the Tigre River. It is known as a ‘language isolate’, which means it bears no relation with any other known language. The system of counting in Taushiro is described thus: speakers only count up to ten, using just their fingers. To say ‘one’ in Taushiro, is washikanto. To indicate a number above ten, speakers would say ashitu and point to a toe on their foot.
Liki is a highly endangered language, with only five fluent speakers remaining, as of 2007. It is used on the islands of Sarmi Kecamatan, Sarmi and Jayapura Kabupaten off the coast of Indonesia, and used to be commonly spoken by all the indigenous church officials. Interestingly, it has its origins in several languages, including Malayo-Polynesian, Oceanic, North New Guinea, Sarmi, Austronesian, and Eastern Malayo-Polynesian.
The loss of any language is a great loss. For so many to be facing extinction is a crisis recognised by UNESCO, who have produced an interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. If you are interested in UNESCO’s work with rare languages and their preservation, you can find more details of the projects they run in the Endangered Languages section of the site.