Conservationists fear that the loss of species due to man’s activities is accelerating. And linguists say that the wealth of the world’s human languages is now safeguarded by very few indigenous peoples, most of whom live precarious lives in developing countries.
Of the 7,000 languages spoken worldwide, half now have fewer than 10,000 speakers, and these 3,500 languages are spoken by only 0.1% of the world’s population – equivalent to a city about the size of London. These eight million people are now responsible for keeping the wealth of human cultural history alive, says the report.
At the other end of the spectrum, because of colonisation, globalisation and the worldwide move to cities in the last 30 years, a handful of global languages increasingly dominates: 95% of the world’s population speaks one of just 400 languages, each spoken by millions of people, and 40% of us speak one of just eight languages: Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian and Japanese.
“We are losing the richness of human diversity, becoming more and more similar. The languages we speak define how we think and understand the world,” says Mandana Seyfeddinipur, director of the endangered languages archive at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.