Language hotspotsÊ UÊ
a. The concept of language hotspots was developed by Greg Anderson and David Harrison of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. A language hotspot exists when three factors converge: high language endangerment, high linguistic diversity, and languages that are poorly documented. To calculate linguistic diversity, they divide the number of language families in an area by the total number of languages. 150° 120° 90° 60° 30°
90° 120° 150° 180°
60° CENTRAL SIBERIA
NORTHWEST PACIFIC PLATEAU
30° SOUTHEAST ASIA TAIWANPHILIPPINES NORTHERN SOUTH AMERICA WESTERN MELANESIA
CENTRAL SOUTH AMERICA
Threat level Severe High Medium Low
SOUTHERN SOUTH AMERICA
Language Endangerment and Diversity During the 1990s, researchers began to use biological analogies when characterizing the state of languages in the world. Just as wildlife ecologists and conservation biologists use the concepts of biodiversity, endangered species, and extinction of species, language scholars speak of linguistic diversity, endangered languages, and extinct (or dead) languages. Our world is now experiencing the fastest rate of language extinction ever—one language dies out approximately every two weeks.
112 CHAPTER 4 Geographies of Language
linguistic diversity The assortment of languages in a particular area.
endangered language A language that is no longer taught to children by their parents and is not used for everyday conversation.
extinct language A language that has no living speakers; also called a dead language.
Some estimates suggest that as many as half of the world’s languages are endangered. Many researchers fear that if this trend is not halted, we might witness a mass extinction of languages within the next 50 or 60 years. Three regions are losing languages quickly—the Americas (North America, Central America, and South America), Eastern Siberia, and Australia. Here, and in most other hotspots, the languages being lost are those spoken by the native peoples. A pioneering approach to the study of language endangerment and diversity uses the concept of language hotspots (Figure 4.13).
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