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Vanishing Languages in Context

Ideological, Attitudinal and Social Identity Perspectives


Martin Pütz and Neele Mundt

This volume grew out of the 36th International LAUD Symposium, which was held in March 2014 at the University of Koblenz-Landau in Landau, Germany. There is general consensus among language experts that slightly more than half of today’s 7,000 languages are under severe threat of extinction even within fifty to one hundred years. The 13 papers contained in this volume explore the dramatic loss of linguistic diversity, why this matters, and what can be done and achieved to document and support endangered languages especially in the context of an ever increasing globalized world. The issue of vanishing languages is discussed from a variety of methodologies and perspectives: sociolinguistics, language ecology, language contact, language policy/planning, attitudes and linguistic inequalities.
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Martin Pütz & Neele Mundt - Introduction: Vanishing Languages in Context


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Martin Pütz & Neele Mundt

Introduction: Vanishing Languages in Context

There is general consensus among linguists and language experts that half of the world’s 7,000 languages spoken by approximately seven billion people today will disappear before the end of this century with one language dying “every three months or so” (Thomason 2015: 2). Looking at the ratio of speakers and their languages it becomes evident that about 96% of the world’s languages are spoken and used by about 3% of the world’s population. For a variety of reasons, speakers of many smaller, less dominant languages/dialects stop using their heritage language and instead adopt more global, dominant languages such as Mandarin, Hindi, English or Spanish. These smaller “vanishing” idioms are not being learnt by children as mother tongues or first languages anymore and therefore do not contribute to intergenerational transmission. In this vein, language endangerment can be defined as “the en masse, often radical shift away from unique, local languages and language practices” (Woodbury 2011: 160), or, as Thomason (2015: 4) more precisely put it:

A language is clearly endangered when it is at risk of vanishing within a generation or two – that is, when its last fluent speakers are elderly, when few or no children are learning it as a first language, and when no one is learning it as a second language.

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