In advance of International Mother Tongue Day on February 21, UNESCO launched an online World Atlas of Languages in Danger. It’s a pretty fascinating resource that uses a google maps application to provide up-to-date data on some 2,500 endangered languages.
According to UNESCO, here in the United States there are 75 “critically endangered” languages, all of which are Native American tongues. For example, I learn that Eyak, spoken by natives of south-central Alaska, became extinct in 2008 with the death of Marie Smith Jones.
In all, the atlas shows that 199 languages have fewer than ten speakers and 178 others have between 10 to 50 speakers.
Interestingly, the atlas shows that Manx Gaelic–the native tongue of the Isle of Man– officially died out in 1974 “when Ned Maddrell fell forever silent.” The BBC, however, smells a controversy, and finds one “Jennifer Kewley-Draskau, author of the handbook Practical Manx” who says that the extinct claim is potentially misleading.
“Unesco ought to know better than to declare Manx a dead language,” said Ms Kewley-Draskau. “There are hundreds of speakers of Manx and while people are able to have productive conversations in the language then it is very much alive and well.”
That may be true. And if this guy has his way we’ll all be speaking Manx soon.