A pro-Occitan language demonstration in Béziers, France (Photo: Ana-Maria Poggio)
Languages are integral to our identity, heritage, and humanity. There are roughly 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, but it’s estimated that without intervention, more than half of them will disappear by the end of this century.
Already, more than 600 of the languages known to have existed at the end of the 20th century are no longer spoken, and right now 457 living languages have fewer than 10 native speakers. This rapid loss of language diversity is larger than current extinction rates in mammals, fish, birds, and plants combined.
Mary Linn, curator of cultural and linguistic revitalization for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, examines the critical importance of maintaining language diversity, the forces that threaten to silence endangered languages, and the efforts to combat them.
Linn discusses how indigenous languages are linked to health, education, and employment, as well as the vital connection they provide to the continuity of knowledge and cultural practices. She also reviews how speakers of endangered and minoritized languages are engaged in innovative efforts to reclaim them, drawing on examples from several resilient communities including the Myaamiaki (Miami Tribe) in Native North America, speakers of Greko (Calabrian Greek) in Western Europe, and residents of Tibetan areas of China.
The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage has undertaken a variety of projects aimed at preserving and documenting minoritized languages around the world. Learn about their work with speakers of Greko and Griko, two languages of Greek origin used in regions of southern Italy, and listen to Greko as spoken by a Calabrian native.