Swiss Society
for Endangered Languages

WHaT ARE ENDANGERED LANGUAGES?

 

Our mission

The SSEL promotes the documentation and preservation of endangered languages. If you are planning a project that is in line with this, you may apply for funding. If you want to support us and have your say at general meetings, you may become a member (PC-Konto 87-439448-0). More details on the work and organisation of the SSEL can be found in our statutes.

 

What are endangered languages?

Presently about 6,500 languages are still spoken around the world. 52% of these are used by fewer than 10'000 people, 28% by fewer than 1000, and at least 10% by fewer than 100 people.  Few of these languages will survive long in the present age of global communication - more than half of them will disappear by the year 2100. Less optimistic estimations assume that 90% of all languages are in danger of dying out because even those with 20,000 or 50,000 speakers are often under pressure from other, more dominant languages. Our generation is thus witnessing a massive impoverishment of human cultural heritage. With the death of each language, an entire culture and unique way of looking at the world and dealing with social and environmental problems, disappears. 

In many regions of the world, humans have started to reconsider the value of cultural and linguistic diversity. However, often small speech communities or whole countries do not have the necessary means for promoting their language. For many endangered languages, not even a rudimentary description of their grammar is available, which could form the base for educational materials. Therefore the documentation of endangered languages and the preservation of linguistic diversity is presently one of the most urgent tasks for the linguistics discipline and a major challenge for humanity as a whole.