An endangered language
is a language
with so few surviving speakers that it is in danger of falling out of use. For example, many Native American
languages in the United States became extinct through policies in the 19th and early 20th centuries discouraging and/or outlawing their use.
While there is no definite threshold for identifying a language as endangered, three main criteria are used as guidelines:
- The number of speakers currently living.
- The mean age of native and/or fluent speakers.
- The percentage of the youngest generation acquiring fluency with the language in question.
For example, Ainu
is endangered in Japan, with only approximately 15 surviving native speakers and few youth acquiring fluency in it. A language might also be declared as endangered if it has 100 speakers, but the speakers are all over the age of 90, and no youth are learning the language.
Some languages, such as those in Indonesia may have tens of thousands of speakers but be endangered because children are no longer learning them, or speakers are in the process of shifting to using the national language Indonesian (or a local Malay variety) in place of local languages.
In contrast, a language with only 100 speakers might be considered very much alive if it is the primary language of a community, and is the first (or only) language of all children in that community.
Examples of endangered languages
See also List of endangered languages for a more complete list.
Examples of recently extinct languages
With last known speaker and date of death:
The Rosetta Project is an online language archive which seeks to preserve endangered languages.
- Kakadu (Gagadju) language, Big Bill Neidjie (July 2002)
- Ubykh language, Tevfik Esenc (October 1992)
- Manx language, (1974) (but is being revived as a second language)
- Tasmanian language, (late 1800s)
See also List of extinct languages for a more complete list.