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New knowledge: Findings from the Catalogue of Endangered Languages

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Title:New knowledge: Findings from the Catalogue of Endangered Languages
Authors:Campbell, Lyle
Lee, Nala Huiying
Okura, Eve
Simpson, Sean
Ueki, Kaori
Contributors:Campbell, Lyle (speaker)
Lee, Nala Huiying (speaker)
Okura, Eve (speaker)
Simpson, Sean (speaker)
Ueki, Kaori (speaker)
show 5 more
Date Issued:28 Feb 2013
Description:The Catalogue of Endangered Languages, recently launched at, has already produced valuable new knowledge about the endangered languages of the world. The purpose of this paper is to make some of these findings known, in particular, ones with particular importance for how endangered languages are talked about generally.

We report examples of the following sorts:

Hard evidence from the Catalogue shows that 3054 languages are currently endangered (43% of all languages), based on precise criteria. This 43% is near to the oft-cited 50% (but far from the 90% worst-case) scenario of languages expected to become extinct or doomed by the century’s end.

Of all known named languages, 634 have become extinct, 141 of these (22%) in recent times (in the last 40 years). This concrete evidence demonstrates that the rate of language extinction has become much more highly accelerated in recent times, as often claimed.

All the languages of exactly 100 families, including isolates, have become extinct, from among the world’s 420 language families –24% of linguistic diversity has been lost forever. This confirms the common claim of significant loss of language diversity.

There are 335 languages with fewer than 10 speakers (11% of all endangered languages).

The very frequently repeated claim that one language goes extinct each 2 weeks is not supported by the findings; rather, the Catalogue of Endangered Languages finds that on average only 3.5 languages become extinct per year, i.e. about 1 each 4 months, true now and for any time span during the last 40 years. Though not as dramatic as the oft-cited claim, loss of 1 language every 4 months is tragic, with its irreparable damage and loss. There is no need to continue to repeat the inaccurate claim, which ultimately could have negative repercussions for our field -- the number is still shocking.

We side with Copernicus: “to know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, is true knowledge.” As the Catalogue of Endangered Languages moves into the next phase, its goal is to achieve true knowledge by obtaining information on the endangered languages that we know that we do not currently have enough information for, and thereby produce new knowledge relevant to several audiences and relevant to how endangered languages are talked about generally.
Rights:Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections: 3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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