CLOSE
Original image
ThinkStock

8 Endangered Languages That Could Soon Disappear

Original image
ThinkStock

Endangered is a word we usually associate with animal species, but some languages, too, are dying breeds. There are over 6000 languages spoken in the world today, but many are at risk of becoming extinct and forgotten. It is estimated that if language decline continues as it has been, half of the world’s languages could be wiped off the map by the end of this century. While some languages that are considered endangered still have thousands of speakers trying to keep them alive, other languages have become confined to single villages and still others to single people.

The Catalogue of Endangered Languages, or ELCat, is a project that has been launched by the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity to raise awareness of the drastic loss of language that is currently taking place across the globe. While many of these languages are likely past the point of salvation in terms of everyday use, the ELCat and other, similar organizations can still offer ways to preserve these languages so that we can continue to respect and learn from linguistic diversity. Check out the variety in this list of threatened and endangered languages—and remember that this list barely scratches the surface.

1. Irish Gaelic

Irish Gaelic currently has over 40,000 estimated native speakers. There are several communities in Ireland, called Gaeltachts, where Irish is still spoken as the primary language. Governmental efforts have been in place for many years requiring Irish students to learn the Irish language and encouraging it to be spoken. Despite the government’s attempts, though, this language is still classified as vulnerable in the ELCat.

2. Krymchak

Also spelled Krimchak and known as Judeo-Crimean Tatar, this language is spoken by people in Crimea, a peninsula of Ukraine. It appears that only individuals born during or before the 1930s have retained fluency in this language, leaving an estimated 200 native speakers alive when research was conducted in 2007.

3. Okanagan-Colville

Also known as Nsyilxcən, this is one of hundreds of Native American languages that are considered endangered. Spoken primarily in communities in British Columbia, Canada, it is estimated that only about 150 native speakers of this language remain. Thankfully, the ELCat has amassed a significant number of resources, including videos, to help preserve this language.

4. Ts’ixa

Ts’ixa, also commonly seen as Ts’exa, is an endangered language of Botswana that is related to Shua, the language spoken throughout most of central Botswana. Ts’ixa is believed to only be spoken in one village today, the village of Mababe. It is estimated that there are currently less than 200 native speakers of this language, most of them adults. Children in this village often feel more comfortable speaking in Setswana or English, the languages they are educated in.

5. Ainu

Ainu is the language of the Ainu people, a native group in Japan. Because there are only about ten native speakers remaining—all of them elderly members of the community—the language is critically endangered. ELCat does make reference to many people being heritage learners of the language, but that knowledge is not enough to sustain the use of a language when all of the fluent speakers are gone.

6. Rapa Nui

Many languages are endangered because their populations of speakers are isolated on islands; Rapa Nui is one such language. Considered a threatened language, Rapa Nui is spoken on the famous Easter Island; as of 2000 there were 3390 native speakers. Spanish is gradually becoming the more dominant language among the island’s inhabitants.

7. Yagan

Yagan is an indigenous language of Chile that purportedly has only one remaining native speaker. That is not to say that others are not familiar with the language, but they are not fluent or regular speakers of it. The ELCat features a video of a woman demonstrating the language in a greeting recorded for the First Congress on the Indigenous Languages of Chile.

8. Saami

Saami is not a single language, but a family of languages that includes at least ten different variations. These languages are also commonly referred to as Lappish and are spoken in northern regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. While a few of these languages, North Saami and Lule Saami, are estimated to have speakers in the thousands, most are considered critically endangered and have speaker numbers in only the single or double digits. The speakers of these languages that still remain are most commonly elders, and the languages are not regularly spoken outside of the home or the context of songs or ceremonies.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Animals
7 Fun Facts for Elephant Appreciation Day
Original image
iStock

Happy Elephant Appreciation Day! Celebrate the occasion with some facts about everyone's favorite gentle giant. 

1. ELEPHANTS CAN RECOGNIZE OTHER ELEPHANT CARCASSES.

iStock

The University of Sussex's Karen McComb told National Geographic that elephants "become excited and agitated if they come across a dead elephant," and, in particular, will investigate skulls and tusks. McComb teamed up with researchers at the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya to study the behavior, showing wild elephants a range of objects that included skulls. They found that the elephants examined skulls—and tusks in particular—of their own kind twice as long as other skulls, and examined tusks six times as long as they did pieces of wood. They were even able to recognize elephant skulls with the tusks removed, but didn't show preference for certain elephant skulls over others, which suggests they didn't know which skulls belonged to their own relatives. "Animals that are intensely social in life may be most likely to display an interest in their dead," McComb told National Geographic. "But what goes on in their minds while they are doing this is a total mystery."

2. THEY'RE SCARED OF BEES.

iStock

Forget about mice scaring off elephants: When farmers need to keep elephants away from their crops, they should use bees. Researchers in Kenya discovered that even the recorded sound of buzzing bees was enough to make elephants retreat—and cause them to emit a low-frequency sound, inaudible to humans, that warns other elephants of the bees' presence.

"It's impossible to cover Africa in electric fences," Lucy King, author of the paper, told The Huffington Post. "The infrastructure doesn't exist in many places and it would restrict animals' movement." But something like a bee fence—hives strung on strong wires a certain distance apart that would move when elephants walked into them, disturbing the hives—"could be a better way to direct elephants away from farmers' crops," she said.

3. THEY MIGHT UNDERSTAND POINTING.

iStock

Humans often use pointing as a way to nonverbally get a message across, though not many other animals grasp the concept. But according to a two-month study of 11 tame African elephants, these pachyderms might be able to: When presented with two identical buckets and pointed in the direction of the one containing food, elephants picked up on the cue fairly consistently: Elephants had a success rate of 67.5 percent (1-year-old humans have a success rate of 72.7 percent). But an earlier study of Asian elephants indicated that they don’t notice pointing gestures, which is a bit of a mystery.

4. ONE ELEPHANT CAN "TALK." 

iStock

Koshik, an elephant in a South Korean zoo, developed the ability to imitate the sounds of five words he's heard from his trainer—annyeong (hello), anja (sit down), aniya (no), nuwo (lie down), and joa (good)—by sticking his trunk in his mouth. The scientists who first noticed Koshik’s ability speculate that he learned to “talk” because he was lonely.

5. THEY'RE DIGITIGRADES.

iStock

It's Latin for "finger walking," and what it means is that elephants walk on their toes (there are five of them, as well a sixth false toe). According to the book Mammal Anatomy: An Illustrated Guidemost of the animals' weight "rests on a broad pad of elastic tissue behind the toes" which "acts as a shock absorber and prevents the skeleton from jolting too much when the animals walk. It also allows elephants to move surprisingly quietly despite their size."

6. AN ELEPHANT PREGNANCY LASTS ABOUT TWO YEARS.

iStock

If you thought being pregnant for nine months was a long time, be glad you're not an elephant, which can be pregnant for up to 680 days, according to the BBC. All that time in the oven has a benefit, though: Elephant calves are born with highly-developed brains, capable of learning their herd's complex social structures and ready to put their trunks to use.

7. NINETY-SIX ELEPHANTS ARE KILLED IN AFRICA EVERY DAY.

iStock

Unfortunately, elephant poaching remains a very big problem: An estimated 35,000 elephants are killed annually, their tusks sold illegally in the ivory market. Do the math, and that comes out to nearly 96 elephants every day. Find out what you can do to help elephants and stop poaching at 96Elephants.org.

arrow
Animals
The Real Story Behind Frida, The Rescue Dog in Mexico Gaining Viral Fame

On Tuesday, September 19, a deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked the center of Mexico. Three days later, rescue workers are still searching for survivors, and among the humans digging through the rubble is a four-legged helper named Frida.

Frida the rescue dog, named after Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, has offered a ray of positivity to people around the world following the devastating news that’s come out of Mexico this week. As a starring member of the Mexican Navy’s Canine Unit, it’s her job to sniff out people trapped by natural disasters, all while wearing goggles, booties, and a harness to keep her safe from debris. The 7-year-old lab has detected 52 people throughout her career, 12 of whom were found alive and successfully rescued, according the Los Angeles Times.

Since the Mexican Navy shared a collage of the rescue dog last week on Twitter, Frida has been declared a hero by the internet. She’s been featured on numerous websites and was the subject of one tweet that has received more than 50,000 likes. But while Frida is doing important, life-saving work that’s every bit worthy of praise, some of the information surrounding her is inaccurate.

Several outlets have misreported that the rescue dog has saved 52 lives following Mexico's earthquake, while in reality 52 is the total number of people she has located, dead or alive.

Fortunately the viral confusion doesn’t make her story any less inspiring. Frida is an invaluable member of her team, often crawling into spaces that humans can’t reach. Like the rest of the rescue workers responding to this week’s earthquake, Frida is a hero to the victims and their loved ones.

For a closer look at how she’s able to pull off such incredible work, check her out in the canine training video below.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios