The aim of this web application is to draw attention to the pressing issue of language endangerment. We hope that the map illustrates the huge number of distinct languages around the world in the present day, and implies that there is much to be lost, socially and culturally, if the languages classified as currently vulnerable or endangered were allowed to shrink away into extinction. You can visualize this projected scenario by unticking all but the ‘living’ languages using the map controls.
Our endangerment status classifications come from the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, though other schemas exist (e.g. Ethnologue). Estimates vary as to the severity of the prognosis from this point: projections of 50-90% language extinction by the end of the century are not uncommon (though see Mark Oppenneer’s post for the Ethnos Project for a less alarmist (but still alarming) discussion). In the words of the linguist Lyle Campbell, such an outcome would be “tragic, with its irreparable damage and loss”.
However, such estimates do not take into account the efforts in linguistics to spread the kind of natural language processing technology that is so prevalent and which has so benefitted major languages (above all English) to ‘low resource’ languages – those languages for which the tools and databases that underpin (for instance) web search, grammar checkers and teaching apps do not yet exist. On the ground meanwhile, community groups, sometimes with the support of government or NGOs, may work to save minority languages and prevent a slide into extinction.