April 21, 2006

Croatian an endangered language?

There's an article in the New York Times about two up-coming literary festivals that will highlight endangered languages. What struck me was the languages mentioned:

Kuranko  305,000 speakers
Basque  660,000 speakers
Croatian6,215,000 speakers

My first reaction was to giggle at the choice of languages with so many speakers as examples of endangered languages. Carrier has no more than 1,000 speakers, almost all of them middle-aged or older. Some of the native languages here in British Columbia are down to 20 speakers, or six or even one.

On reflection, though, what they are saying is actually not so crazy. Languages like Carrier are a lot closer to extinction than Basque, Croatian, or Kuranko, but there is reason for concern about these larger languages. In a world in which a small number of major languages with English at their head increasingly dominate the media, entertainment, business, and academia, there are fewer and fewer domains in which smaller languages are used and more and more pressure to shift to one of the major languages.

Posted by Bill Poser at April 21, 2006 01:23 AM