The Endangered Languages of Sub-Saharan Africa

1. Introduction

Languages are constantly evolving. While some languages are being created, others are disappearing. It is estimated that about half of the world’s 7000 languages will become extinct by the end of this century (Crystal, 2000). This is a very alarming rate considering that each language represents a distinct culture with its own customs and traditions. When a language dies, so does a culture.

There are many reasons why languages become endangered. The most common reason is the loss of its native speakers. This can happen when a community is displaced or assimilated into another culture. It can also happen when younger generations choose to abandon their mother tongue in favor of a more widely spoken language. This is often done in order to gain better economic opportunities or to be able to communicate with a wider range of people.

Another reason why languages become endangered is because the number of speakers is too small to sustain the language. This can happen when a language is only spoken by elderly people and is not being passed down to the younger generations. It can also happen when a language is only spoken in one specific region and its speakers have little contact with speakers of other languages.

2. Endangered languages around the world

There are many endangered languages around the world. Some of these languages are only spoken by a few hundred people while others are only spoken by a few dozen. Here are some examples of endangered languages from different parts of the world:

From North America:
– Cherokee is an Iroquoian language that was once widely spoken in the southeastern United States. Today, there are only about 20,000 Cherokee speakers remaining, most of whom live in Oklahoma (National Geographic, 2013).
– Yup’ik is an Eskimo-Aleut language that was once spoken by the Yup’ik people who lived in southwestern Alaska. Today, there are only about 24,000 Yup’ik speakers remaining (National Geographic, 2013).
– Tlingit is a Na-Dené language that was once spoken by the Tlingit people who lived in southeastern Alaska and western Canada. Today, there are only about 500 Tlingit speakers remaining (National Geographic, 2013).

From South America:
– Kaweskar is a Chonan language that was once spoken by the Kaweskar people who lived in southern Chile and Argentina. Today, there are only about 100 Kaweskar speakers remaining (Moseley & Asher, 1994).
– Mapudungun is a Mapudungun-speaking language that was once spoken by the Mapuche people who lived in central Chile and southwest Argentina. Today, there are only about 100,000 Mapudungun speakers remaining (Moseley & Asher, 1994).
– Quechua is an indigenous language family that was once spoken by the Quechua people who lived in southern Peru, Bolivia, northern Chile and Ecuador. Today, there are only about 10 million Quechua speakers remaining (Moseley & Asher, 1994).

From Europe:
– Cornish is a Celtic language that was once spoken in Cornwall, England. Today, there are only about 300 Cornish speakers remaining (Moseley & Asher, 1994).
– Gaelic Irish is a Celtic language that was once spoken in Ireland. Today, there are only about 1.5 million Gaelic Irish speakers remaining (Moseley & Asher, 1994).
– Welsh is a Celtic language that was once spoken in Wales. Today, there are only about 700,000 Welsh speakers remaining (Moseley & Asher, 1994).

From Asia:
– Amharic is a Semitic language that was once spoken in Ethiopia. Today, there are only about 22 million Amharic speakers remaining (Moseley & Asher, 1994).
– Bengali is a Indo-Aryan language that was once spoken in Bangladesh and parts of India. Today, there are only about 210 million Bengali speakers remaining (Moseley & Asher, 1994).
– Mandarin Chinese is a Sino-Tibetan language that was once spoken in China. Today, there are only about 955 million Mandarin Chinese speakers remaining (Moseley & Asher, 1994).

3. Language extinction in Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to many languages that are endangered or close to extinction. These languages are at risk due to the loss of their native speakers or because the number of speakers is too small to sustain the language. Here are some examples of endangered languages in Sub Saharan Africa:

a) Kiswahili
Kiswahili is a Bantu language that is spoken in East Africa. It is estimated that there are about 50 million Kiswahili speakers remaining (Moseley & Asher, 1994). Kiswahili is an official language in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. It is also a national language in Somalia and Comoros. Kiswahili is one of the most commonly spoken languages in Africa and is used as a lingua franca in many parts of the continent.

b) Boon
Boon is a Khoisan language that is spoken in Namibia and Botswana. It is estimated that there are about 200 Boon speakers remaining (Moseley & Asher, 1994). Boon is one of the most endangered languages in Africa and is at risk of becoming extinct within the next few years.

c) Somali
Somali is a Cushitic language that is spoken in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. It is estimated that there are about 16 million Somali speakers remaining (Moseley & Asher, 1994). Somali is an official language in Somalia and an official working language of the African Union.

d) Ethiopian
Ethiopian is a Semitic language that is spoken in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is estimated that there are about 24 million Ethiopian speakers remaining (Moseley & Asher, 1994). Ethiopian is an official language in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is also one of the working languages of the African Union.

e) Sudanese
Sudanese Arabic is a Arabic dialect that is spoken in Sudan. It is estimated that there are about 40 million Sudanese Arabic speakers remaining (Moseley & Asher, 1994). Sudanese Arabic is an official language in Sudan. It is also one of the working languages of the African Union. Sudanese Arabic has many loanwords from the Nubian languages.

f) Tanzania
Tanzania is a Bantu language that is spoken in Tanzania. It is estimated that there are about 8 million Tanzania speakers remaining (Moseley & Asher, 1994). Tanzania is an official language in Tanzania. It is also one of the working languages of the African Union.

4. Conclusion

Languages are an important part of our heritage. They represent the cultures and traditions of their speakers. When a language becomes endangered, it is at risk of becoming extinct. This is a very alarming rate considering that each language represents a distinct culture with its own customs and traditions. When a language dies, so does a culture.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to many languages that are endangered or close to extinction. These languages are at risk due to the loss of their native speakers or because the number of speakers is too small to sustain the language. Some of these languages include Kiswahili, Boon, Somali, Ethiopian, Sudanese and Tanzania.

FAQ

Language extinction is the death of a language.

It happens when there are no more speakers of a language.

The consequences of language extinction are that the culture and history associated with the language are lost, and communication within the community becomes more difficult.