For us, language and speech (speaking) are usually not topics about which we often bother ourselves much in our everyday lives. We communicate with our fellow human beings, laugh at linguistic jokes (wit and puns) and ponder over correct spellings. Some words have double meanings, e.g. the bank, the blaze or the lens. There are several words that express the same thing such as these adjectives: delicious, tasty, luscious. Every year the Youth Word of the Year is chosen, the dictionary (Duden) is continually expanded, Anglicisms are being added to our vocabulary – language develops, language changes, language is continual. For us anyway, because that is not the case everywhere. At present, there are still an estimated 7,000 different languages, but according to UNESCO estimates, only half of them will remain until the end of the 21st century.
Language is passed down from generation to generation; the language with which we grow up is our mother tongue. If now fewer and fewer people grow up with one language, there is the danger that that language will become extinct. Currently, there are over 3000 endangered languages in the world – which means that there are fewer and fewer people who are learning these languages as their mother tongue. A differentiation is thereby made in different degrees, between ‘potentially endangered’ and ‘moribund’. In Germany fewer and fewer children grow up speaking Bavarian or West Frisian; the once spoken Nehrungskurish (Curse of Spit), which was spoken on the Curonian Spit in East Prussia until 1945, has become completely extinct. Beyond the borders of Germany, there are many other languages that are increasingly seldom learned – especially the indigenous languages.
How can we prevent the extinction of languages?
Language connects – language isolates. As is so often the case, the motto here is: our children are the future and enlightening education helps. The aim is to preserve the language threatened with extinction and to simplify the learning process for children in a modern and playful way. In this context, it is worth adapting school programmes and adding second languages to the curriculum only at a later stage. First experiments in Northern Canada, in which the children are taught in their mother tongue in the villages of the Dene Indians up to the 3rd school year before they learn English, turn out to be successful. The grades improve; the preservation of the language is consolidated for the time being. An additional factor to prevent loss is the everyday contact with real life – in movies, books, and television.