languages.jpgThe start of the International Year of Languages was launched last week by UNO and UNESCO. Here are a few interesting facts about language:

– Over 3000 languages are in danger of disappearing.

– 96% of the world’s languages are spoken by 4% of the world’s population.

– One language disappears on average every two weeks.

– 80% of the African languages have no orthography.

– Chinese courses have been blooming internationally since 2000 at every level of education.

– By the time 200,000 Americans are able to speak Mandarin, 200,000,000 Chinese will speak fluent English.

– In June 1999, the Swedish Parliament enacted legislation giving Yiddish legal status as one of the country’s official minority languages.

– The Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the Russian Federation is a federal subject of Russia where Yiddish is an official language along with Russian.

– Hebrew is spoken by about 5 million people in Israel. In addition, it is spoken by several hundred thousand speakers in expatriot Jewish communities around the world.

4 thoughts on “Languages

  1. Interesting statistics unlike my stats course in universtiy. About 500 million people speak Spanish and that’s one reason that I think it is not one of the 3000 languages that are going extinct. I’m monolingual and on a quest to be bilingual (there are so many benefits to being bi/trilingual). I decided to study Spanish ( due to my interest in the culture and my several holidays to Mexico.

  2. Thanks for that info – now I need to track down their sources. Of course in any figures such as that, there are issues of how the “languages” are counted. Ethnologue – the source of the 6-7000 language in the world figure – tends to “split” into separate languages what others would “join” as dialects of a common language. Hence in the case of Africa, estimates go from 800 to over 2000 languages.

    In any event, the most widely spoken African languages have an orthography. Sometimes more than one, since different systems may have been promoted by various missionary groups, countries sometimes adopt different rules for the many crossborder languages, and sometimes the rules are simply changed – any of which can be almost as inconvenient as “no orthography.” Another issue is whether the languages and orthographies are taught in schools.

    I’ll leave it at that except to say (if anyone is interested) that there are some African initiatives to promote development of orthographies where they do not exist, such as BASAL and research on harmonizing orthographies by CASAS.

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