Economic success drives 'language extinction'

LONDON - Thriving economies is driving the extinction of some languages, and conservation should focus on the most developed countries where languages are vanishing the fastest, a British study suggested.

In the study published in the British scientific journal Proceedings of Royal Society B, researchers from Cambridge University used the criteria for defining endangered species to measure rate and prevalence of language loss, as defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Xinhua reported.

The three main risk components are: small population size, small geographical habitat range and population change - the decline in speaker numbers. By interrogating huge language data sets using these conservation mechanisms, the researchers found that levels of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita correlated with the loss of language diversity: the more successful economically, the more rapidly language diversity was disappearing.

For example, in the northwest corner of North America, the languages of the indigenous people are disappearing at an alarming rate. Upper Tanana, a language spoken by indigenous Athabaskan people in eastern Alaska, had only 24 active speakers as of 2009, and was no longer being acquired by children. In Australia, aboriginal languages such as the recently extinct Margu and almost extinct Rembarunga are increasingly disappearing from the peninsulas of the Northern Territories.

"As economies develop, one language often comes to dominate a nation's political and educational spheres. People are forced to adopt the dominant language or risk being left out in the cold economically and politically," said Dr Tatsuya Amato from Cambridge University, who led the study.


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