Headline English

Endangered languages

29. 9. 2014

Most people know about endangered animal or plant species. They know that the panda or the polar bear are at risk of extinction (1). The loss of biodiversity has become a mainstream topic for politics, and, increasingly, policies.

However, few people are aware of the rapidly declining number of languages in the world. There are about 7000 languages in the world today, and they are disappearing at a rate of one in two weeks.

By borrowing methods from ecology, researchers have been able to examine the causes of demise (2) of these languages. Apparently, economic growth is the main driver (3) for speakers (and speaker communities) to drop the use of a language.

Speakers of minority languages typically have to learn a dominant language, such as English or Mandarin, in order to rise from poverty or move upwards on the social ladder. This mechanism was documented in the past for certain individual language transitions, such as that from Cornish to English in the United Kingdom or from Horom to English in Nigeria.

Researchers now have a global study showing economic development to be the main language killer. The study shows that there are two types of areas where language loss seems to be particularly strong. Economically well developed regions such as northwestern North America and northern Australia with indigenous (4) populations, on the one hand; and rapidly developing regions in the poorer parts of the world.

However, it is not just economic growth that causes languages to become extinct. National policies also play a very important role.



  1. What are, according to the article, the similarities and dissimilarities between endangered species and endangered languages?
  2. Explain the difference between ‘politics’ (1st paragraph) and ‘policies’ (1st and last paragraph).
  3. What is, according to the article, causing languages to become extinct?
  4. According to the article, what makes people wish to learn a ‘dominant language’ (4th paragraph)?
  5. What is the crucial difference between the new study and the older studies on language extinction mentioned in the article?
  6. Are there any particular places in the world where languages are more at risk of extinction than elsewhere?
  7. What are your motivations for learning English?
  8. Would you consider Czech a minority language?
  9. Do you think that it is desirable that the state should protect minority languages?
  10. Do you think that Czech could become extinct sometime in the future?


extinction (1)– when a type of animal, plant, person, custom, skill etc. stops existing

demise (2) – the end of something that used to exist

driver (3) – the main cause or determining factor of something

indigenous (4) – indigenous people or things have always been in the place where they are, rather than being brought there from somewhere else [= native]


You can find additional explanation and more examples to help you understand and use English words and phrases at https://dictionary.reference.com, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/, https://www.merriam-webster.com/ or https://www.ldoceonline.com/

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