Six degrees of Endangerment of a Language


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Endangered languages

Mains level : Not Much

Recently, The NY Times reported that the “near-extinct” Nepalese language Seke has just 700 speakers around the world. As per the Endangered Languages Project (ELP), there are roughly 201 endangered languages in India and about 70 in Nepal.

The last year, 2019, was the International Year of Indigenous Languages, mandated by the UN.

Nepal’s Seke language

  • According to the Endangered Language Alliance (ELA), Seke is one of the over 100 indigenous languages of Nepal.
  • The dialects from these villages differ substantially and are believed to have varying degrees of mutual intelligibility.
  • In recent years, Seke has been retreating in the face of Nepali, which is Nepal’s official language and is considered to be crucial for getting educational and employment opportunities outside villages.

Degrees of endangerment

UNESCO has six degrees of endangerment. These are:

  1. Safe, which are the languages spoken by all generations and their intergenerational transmission is uninterrupted;
  2. Vulnerable languages, which are spoken by most children but may be restricted to certain domains;
  3. Definitely endangered languages, which are no longer being learnt by children as their mother tongue.
  4. Severely endangered are languages spoken by grandparents and older generations, and while the parent generation may understand it, they may not speak it with the children or among themselves.
  5. Critically endangered languages are those of which the youngest speakers are the grandparents or older family members who may speak the language partially or infrequently and lastly,
  6. Extinct languages, of which no speakers are left.

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