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Endangered Languages, Knowledge Systems and Belief Systems


David Hirsh

Many of the world’s 7000 documented language groups are endangered due to falling rates of language and culture transmission from one generation to the next. Some endangered language groups have been the focus of efforts to reverse patterns of linguistic and cultural loss, with variable success. This book presents case studies of endangered language groups from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific (including Bisu, Iban, Iquito, Quechua, Wawa, Yi and sign languages) and of their associated knowledge and belief systems, to highlight the importance of preserving linguistic and cultural diversity. Issues of identity and pride emerge within the book, alongside discussion of language and culture policy.
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2. Language situation


There is an abundance of languages in the world, resulting from migration (forced and voluntary), settlement, social contact and social isolation. New languages continue to be reported in the literature, but it may be too late to save some of these newly documented languages from extinction.

The Ethnologue (Lewis et al. 2013) comprehensively lists all known living languages in the world. The work, which reflects the meticulous activities of field linguists, ethnographers and cartographers, among other experts, identifies 7,105 living languages. Asia is home to the largest number of living languages (2,304), followed by Africa (2,146), the Pacific (1,311), the Americas (1,060) and Europe (284). Graph 1 represents this geographic distribution of the world’s languages. ← 17 | 18 →

Graph 1. Distribution of the world’s languages.

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