ELL: Africa: Local languages under threat (IRIN News)

Steven Bird sb at UNAGI.CIS.UPENN.EDU
Thu Feb 21 15:46:10 UTC 2002

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From: IRIN <IRIN at irinnews.org>
To: Steven Bird <sb at ldc.upenn.edu>
Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2002 13:02:35 GMT
Subject: AFRICA: Local languages under threat

U N I T E D  N A T I O N S
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN)

AFRICA: Local languages under threat

ADDIS ABABA, 21 February (IRIN) - Almost half the languages spoken in the
world are under threat, with Africa one of the hardest-hit continents,
according to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation

Africa - linguistically the least known continent - is one of most
affected, where 250 languages could be lost for ever. And of the 1,400
languages - used by the continent's 700 million-strong population - at
least 500 are on the decline.

According to UNESCO, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan face the
most serious problems, and have been designated "crisis areas". "They are
crisis areas which have the most moribund or seriously endangered tongues,"
a spokesman for UNESCO said in a statement released in the Ethiopian
capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday.

UNESCO argues that some African countries encourage major languages like
Swahili, or even colonial languages like French and English, which then
threaten local tongues. A community's language is defined by experts to be
endangered when at least 30 percent of its children no longer speak it.

Often economic and social factors can threaten local languages as people
leave their communities to look for work. Their environments can also be
threatened, so villagers and their language are dispersed. Linguists argue
that a native language helps preserve the culture of communities, as well
as providing the building blocks of life.

"At least 3,000 tongues are endangered, seriously endangered or dying in
many parts of the world," the UNESCO spokesman stressed. "About half of the
6,000 or so languages spoken in the world are under threat. Over the past
three centuries, languages have died out and disappeared at a dramatic and
steadily increasing pace, especially in the Americas and Australia."

"But an endangered, moribund or even extinct language can be saved through
a determined language policy," he added. "Sometimes languages that have
actually died out have been 'raised from the dead', such as Cornish, in
England, which became extinct in 1777, but has been revived in recent
years, with nearly 1,000 people now speaking it as a second language."

UNESCO has released an atlas highlighting the "World's Languages in Danger
of Disappearing". The maps have been launched to coincide with
International Mother Language Day - marked on 21 February.


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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2002

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