ABC news story: Only 10 per cent of world’s languages left by 2100

Hi Everyone,

The following radio report on ABC introduces a seminar by Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann from Adelaide University where he will exhort people around the world to save dying and revive dead languages. The benefits to humanity of preserving the knowledge and heritage are of paramount importance, even though language loss is often given scan attention.

He introduces the fact that Hebrew was a dead language that was brought back to life some hundred or so years ago, due to the returning Jewish diaspora who came from different language communities needing a lingua franca. We could imagine something similar having happened in the 1950’s or earlier with Catholics reviving Latin as a spoken language in situations where say, Italian, Spanish, Irish, German and French catholics had been thrown together needing a common tongue for everyday language use (shopping, dating, working, studying). The example of Hebrew shows that language revival is possible where the community feels it is needed; given good will, education, community and government support, Aboriginal languages may thus be brought back to life.

Professor Zuckermann also appears in Stephen Fry’s Planet Word documentary discussing the revival of Hebrew.


Michael James BARROW, Ling366

Professor Zuckermann’s university web-page: 

ABC news report (audio):


ELEANOR HALL: Linguistic analysts predict that 90 per cent of the world’s languages will disappear by the end of this century and topping the threatened list are Australian Indigenous languages.

Adelaide University’s linguistics professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann is urging the Australian community to preserve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, saying they should be better recognised as part of the country’s heritage.

Nance Haxton reports.

(Sound of Leonora Adidi singing)

NANCE HAXTON: Leonora Adidi lives in built-up inner city Brisbane but she only has to sing this song to be taken back to her childhood home and family in the Torres Strait.

This hymn is sung in her native tongue of Kala Lagaw Ya. But Leonora could be one of the last people to sing it.

Her language is dying as English and Torres Strait creole take over the islands as the main languages spoken.

LEONORA ADIDI: We are rapidly losing it. Particularly the younger generation these days are speaking the creole, the Torres Strait creole as a first language and so the traditional language is not passed on.

NANCE HAXTON: Her concern is shared by professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann, the chair of linguistics and endangered languages at the University of Adelaide.

Research shows that up to 90 per cent of the world’s 7,000 languages could be lost by the end of the century.

Of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages only 20 from of an original 250 are still widely spoken.

Today professor Zuckermann will implore people through a special university seminar to take part in a worldwide movement to revive extinct and endangered languages before they disappear altogether.

GHIL’AD ZUCKERMANN: I mean I often wonder why so many people are so afraid of pandas disappearing and they couldn’t care less about language.

Without a language you do not have cultural autonomy, you do not have intellectual sovereignty, you do not have culture, you do not have heritage.

The loss here is huge.

NANCE HAXTON: Professor Zuckermann also speaks Revived Hebrew which died out as a spoken language almost 2,000 years ago but was revived in the 1880s.

He says it is critical that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are not lost in the same way.

GHIL’AD ZUCKERMANN: I think that Australia is one of the world’s records for linguicide, for the killing of language. So it’s – you know, we don’t want, I mean we don’t want Australia to be at the top of the list when it comes to the loss of languages.

NANCE HAXTON: Leonora Adidi says without her language she would be unable to express vital parts of her culture.

LEONORA ADIDI: It concerns me that we are rapidly losing it. And because language is a large part of our identity, if we lose our language we also lose a big part of ourselves. We basically don’t know who we are and we can’t express who we are.

(Sound of Leonora Adidi singing)

ELEANOR HALL: That’s Leonora Adidi ending Nance Haxton’s report.

This entry was posted in Language Endangerment, Language Maintenance, Language Revival. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to ABC news story: Only 10 per cent of world’s languages left by 2100

  1. Alexander Dietz says:

    The story of Hebrew is indeed amazing! But nevertheless, it has never been a totally dead language. It had been kept as language of Jewish religion and some literature. In Israel, Hebrew has been build up again as language of daily life out of that what was still there.

    It is clear that language revival can only happen if some bits of a link to it and written documents are left. In Australia, too much time has gone by without eager work to write down every single indigenous language.

    The small size of Australian Indigenous peoples together with modern day mobility are factors which cause challenges.

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