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The Himalayan region is one of the global ‘hotspots’ where local languages are at risk of extinction due to thriving economies, and need immediate attention at conservation, according to a new study by a team of international experts.
Hotspots of threatened language richness were particularly evident in the tropics, the Himalayas, northern Australia, eastern Eurasia and northern Russia/Scandinavia, and northwestern North America, the study published in ‘Proceedings of Royal Society B’ says.
The thriving local economies are the biggest factor in the disappearance of minority languages and conservation should focus on the most developed countries where languages are vanishing the fastest, the study says.
The study’s authors point to areas of the tropics and Himalayan regions that are undergoing rapid economic growth as future hotspots for language extinction, such as Brazil and Nepal.
The researchers 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.
The three main risk components are: small population size (small number of speakers), small geographical habitat range and population change – in this case, the decline in speaker numbers.
By interrogating huge language datasets 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.Unlike species extinction, however, language diversity has a potentially saving grace – bilingualism. Previous research from Cambridge’s Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics has shown that children who speak more than one language have multiple advantages in education, cognition and social interaction.