My inquiry question is: In the future, how will languages converge and influence each other, and will the world one day end up with one single global language?
In order to find an answer to this question, I will start — for my first round of research — to look into what and how many languages are currently extinct; the other categories of languages; how extinct languages are preserved; and how languages die in the first place.
About the Language Categories:
Before I can write about anything else, you must understand the language categories for how endangered the language is. There are five such categories: Safe, vulnerable, definitely endangered, severely endangered, critically endangered and extinct. A language’s category is absolutely not fixed and can improve or decline significantly between assessments. There are languages in each category all around the world.
The Categories Are:
Safe: The language is widely spoken. Ex. English
Vulnerable: The language is not spoken by children outside of their home, or is spoken by most children but restricted to certain areas. Ex. Belarusian – 4,000,000 speakers
Definitely Endangered: Children do not learn the language as their first language at home. Ex. Romani – 3,500,000 speakers
Severely Endangered: The language is only spoken by grandparents and older generations, although still understood by the parent generation. The parent generation does not speak it to each other or to the kids. Ex. Picard – 700,000 speakers
Critically Endangered: The youngest generation that speaks the language is the grandparent generation or older, and they speak it infrequently and only partially. Ex. Parji – 51,216 speakers
Extinct: There are no speakers of the language left. Ex. Tetete – 0 speakers
General Info about Extinct Languages:
Right now, there are over 570 extinct languages around the world. 3.8% of our languages have gone extinct since 1950, and that percentage can only increase. The more linguistically diverse the country, the more languages it can lose and therefore countries with the most linguistic diversity usually have the most critically endangered languages. Indigenous languages are often some of the first to start dying, especially languages from small rural communities, or very distinct dialects that exist only within one tribe or family.
How Languages Die:
Language is fluid—constantly changing and evolving, but with all of that change often comes a shift not just in how the language is spoken, but what language is spoken. This, often, will result, by some way or form, in the death of a language. However, adopting new languages is nothing if not a layered process, and is also definitely not the only way that a language can go extinct.
The main causes of language extinction are switching to politically powerful languages, colonization, and genocide. Communities often adjust their language over time to match the most economically and politically relevant language for them, be it to an official national language or something widespread like English or Spanish. In these cases, the language shift takes time; often there are generations of the language in slow decline before it goes extinct. Scots Gaelic was spoken in Nova Scotia until the 1940s, but by the 1970s, the language was no longer being taught to children and was quickly being replaced by more commercially useful, common languages like English. However, slowly adjusting to fit the norm is usually the only positive way language extinction comes to pass.
When a community is pressured to integrate with another, in the sense of colonization or globalization, it is often forced to give up its language and ethnic and cultural identities. Sometimes the new language is taught as a second language alongside their native one, but historically, it has been much more common that the incoming language is implemented on the people as the sole speakable language, in some cases even extending to their native language being punished or outlawed. An example of this is that the aboriginal children that went to residential schools in Canada and the United-States were punished for communicating in any of their native languages.
Even worse, languages are also driven to extinction through the extinction of the communities that speak them. As was the case in the early 19th century, when the Europeans tried to annihilate the Tasmanians and killed an unknown number of languages as well by exterminating whole communities.
How Are Extinct Languages Preserved:
For the most part, extinct languages are preserved through written texts and, if the language has gone extinct more recently, through videos or audiotapes of the language being spoken, along with translations. Researches immerse themselves in the cultures of the dying languages and analyze the grammar rules and vocabulary in order to write dictionaries and grammar books about them. Language specialists work with communities that want help preserving their dying or extinct language, to offer technical and practical support and language teaching. The older the language, the more difficult it is to start preserving it, as even more knowledge of it has gone, so in those cases, it is much more likely that the only preservation the language has is written.