How Many Languages Will Disappear by the End of the Century?

Your language may not be in danger, but thousands of languages are estimated to disappear in the next 80 years.
Trevor English

Take a moment to think about the languages you can speak and about how many other people in the world can speak those same languages? Due to the fact that you're reading this English article, chances are, quite a few. 

However, while there are about 100 common languages spoken throughout the entire world, there are roughly 7,000 total languages. 

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) currently estimates that over half of all languages currently in existence in the world will die or disappear by the end of the 21st century. 

Two thousand of those languages are measured as having less than 1,000 native speakers in total around the world.


The bulk of these languages are spoken by people in remote regions of the world, like the Amazon rainforest, Africa, Australia, and Asia. That said, there are many languages in larger populated countries at the risk of dying too. These tend to be languages of the natives, like in the U.S. where many Native American languages are at great risk of extinction.

How Many Languages Will Disappear by the End of the Century?
Source: Jarmoluk/Pixabay

But why is all of this happening? What is causing these languages to fall out of fashion across the world in the modern era? The answer is fairly simple. 

The Internet's impact

As the world has entered into the modern information age, it has lost the need to communicate locally. In many instances, English has become the language of the Internet, or at a minimum, Latin charactered languages. 

Researchers attribute the lessening need for localized communication and the heightened demand for global communication in modern economies as one of the key reasons why languages are being abandoned. For many, if they want to compete in a global economy or stay relevant, learning a language like English is a crucial factor.

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However, some researchers believe that the Internet could serve as a tool of renewal for the diversity of languages if it is used right.

Thanks to the Internet, Mandarin has become the second most used language on it. That's followed by Spanish, Japanese, and French. 

In many ways, the Internet has given people a way to express and document their experiences in their native languages like never before. So, it can be both good and bad for languages.

It can shape how cultures can engage with their native languages, or it can persuade them to abandon their native tongue.

The languages that are disappearing

UNESCO estimates that if nothing is done to protect the world's languages, 3,000 will disappear in the next 80 years. Those languages are generally spoken by less than 10,000 people, usually in one generational population. 

That means that a great deal of effort needs to be spent to preserve these languages before they die out slowly.

UNESCO has launched an endangered language program to get governments and local communities to support new language policy with the intention of saving these dying languages. 

How Many Languages Will Disappear by the End of the Century?
Source: Wilhei/Pixabay

In fact, the project has produced an "Atlas of Languages in Danger" that users can interact with and explore online and it's available here.

What can you do?

So now that you are aware of the issue, are there any steps that you can take, even if you don't know or speak the languages that are dying?

For starters, you can support organizations like the World Oral Literature Project, which is dedicated to recording dying languages in the effort of documenting their history and use. 

The project is working to create a massive library of audio and video files from speakers of these dying languages. 

Aside from pure documentation, this project's media also gives children of the natives or people in other places around the world tools to learn new languages. This can help revive dead languages in the future down the line.

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