How many languages are there in the world?
Over the Easter weekend I managed to have a break from work and caught up on some boxed-set viewing. I do like a bit of scandi noir so I’d lined up the third series of The Bridge … Although we can get UK TV here with the time difference the late night showing on BBC 4 is just too late for me, and the French transmission of Swedish sub-titled in French was too much for my brain take in! Just in case you’re one of the few people who hasn’t watched it, I won’t give anything away. At one point Saga Noren comments on the number of alphabets in the world, of course, her ‘wiki’ knowledge immediately reels off that it is ‘about forty’, and this prompted me to dig a little deeper. I wasn’t able to find a definitive answer of the alphabets, but I did come across (OK, I was side-tracked) some fascinating facts about the incredible number of languages.
Nearly 3000 languages could become extinct
Did you know that there are estimated to be over 6000 languages spoken in the world? Of these, just under half are in the endangered category. The situation is so bad that UNESCO has a special day, International Mother Language Day – 21 February, to promote the preservation and protection of languages throughout the world. There is a beautiful infographic at the OxfordWords Blog.
In the UK there are 11 endangered languages, with statuses ranging from critical (Cornish) to vulnerable (Welsh). Many years ago I did learn a bit of Welsh and a few phrases have stuck with me. I never really got my head around the grammar though. I can sometimes be heard swearing in Welsh and we always use a particular Welsh phrase glaw mân to describe the penetrating fine rain that we get here in the Limousin (not unlike the welsh hills).
Closer to home
France also has a number of endangered languages, many of them related to Occitan , a Romance language spoken mainly in the south of France, and in parts of Spain and Italy. According to Omniglot some 1.5 million people speak Occitan on a daily basis. My neighbour can speak fluent Oc and sometimes treats me to a few phrases. There is a fairly healthy revival movement in this area, ranging from graffiti on the signposts to a regular Occitan broadcast slot on our local France 3 TV channel. Maybe Occitan can be my next language challenge!
If you want to explore this subject there are some fascinating maps and resources on the Endangered Languages website. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you if you can speak one of the more unusual languages in the world – leave a comment below (with a translation, please!). By the way, if you were wondering about the title of this post: parolas la anglan is Esperanto, an ‘artificial’ language, but we’ll leave that to another time.