The Sound of Vanishing Languages

A study based supported by the National Geographic Society and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages identifies regions around the world where languages are dying. We hear some words from these disappearing languages.

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More than half of the world's languages are expected to disappear by the end of this century, and linguists have identified five hot spots around the world where they are vanishing most rapidly.


The Living Tongues Institute and National Geographic presented these findings yesterday. Researchers say the 80 or so dominant languages are squeezing out the weaker ones.

SIEGEL: In northern Australia, more than 200 languages are being overtaken by English. Here's a bit of one of them - Bardi.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking foreign language).

SIEGEL: And we are sure the translation is: These are my older brothers. We can hear that again.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking foreign language).

BLOCK: In South America, people from the Andes to the Amazon Basin are at risk of losing more than 100 languages as Spanish and Portuguese take over. Here's a woman counting in a language called Chipaya.

Unidentified Woman #2: (Speaking foreign language).

SIEGEL: In this country, the Pacific Northwest coast is home to more than 50 native languages that the living tongues institute is worried about. Here is the word for cemetery in Sylets Vini(ph), a nearly extinct language in Oregon.

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language).

SIEGEL: The other North American hotspot is around Oklahoma where Native American languages are concentrated.

BLOCK: Also on the list, central and eastern Siberian languages were Russian is taking over.

SIEGEL: Now, you might be thinking - fewer languages, easier communication, not a terrible thing. But linguists like botanists and zoologists prefer diversity.

BLOCK: And according to the experts, for many of these speakers of endangered languages, it's goodbye or as they say in Tuvan...

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking foreign language).

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