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In the next 100 years, thousands of languages will die out.
It’s hard to know just how many languages we’ll lose, but linguists estimate that between 50-90% of the more than 6,000 current world languages will cease to exist in the next century. That’s a global hit of 3,000 to 5,400 languages.
This is known as language death, although linguists prefer the less alarmist “language loss.”
Sometimes we lose a language because the community that speaks it is wiped out. But it’s much more common that a community simply switches to another language.
As Lenore Grenoble, a linguist at the University of Chicago, told Tech Insider the reasons a community switches languages are complex, but urbanization is a big factor.
As more and more people move into cities, they give up their local language in favor of the more widely spoken languages of the city, often a lingua franca like English that serves as a bridge between cultures with different native languages.
But there is some form of salvation for thousands of doomed languages: The internet could slow their decline or at least help preserve that linguistic diversity.
“In order for languages to be alive, they need to be used and they need a place to use them,” Grenoble says, “and that’s what the internet buys us.”
There really hasn’t been a better time to speak your language and be heard than today. Unlike other media, such as television and radio, it costs very little to communicate over the internet. You don’t need a studio and a big transmitter to reach an audience. All you need is a smartphone, an internet connection and a Twitter account and you can reach a global audience.
And unlike print media, writing on the internet doesn’t have the same strict guidelines as traditional prose.
“It’s less threatening and less rigid,” Grenoble says. “Blogging and Twitter are somewhere between written and spoken speech.”
Chances are, however, that internet use will not save the most at-risk languages in the world.
Take the more than 800 languages spoken in Papua New Guinea. While the nation boasts the greatest language diversity on the planet, most of its languages are spoken by less than 1,000 people, and it’s unlikely that access to Twitter will do much to spread these highly specific dialects.