You could have knocked me over with a weak cliché: do you know that every two weeks or so the world experiences the demise of yet another active language. How many hundreds of years did people speak and write that fading language and now it is only available in books. If people stop using their traditional language, can we still call it a language? I guess so: look at Nahuatl and, of course, Latin which isn’t even used in the high church any more.
But what is more obviously the death-knell for many lesser language is the Internet. If you primarily speak and write a lesser known or locally limited language, stop and consider: How do you spell LOLAROTF in your language? In your language, what is the word for “glitch”? Is there a Wiki-[fill-in-your-language] online to expand the gray cells in your area of the world? It is estimated that only five percent of the world’s languages have a significant presence online and the suggestion is then that only five percent of the world’s language will survive as more and more of everyday life becomes attached to the internet.
When you have to go to a digital feed site to find the book you want to read, will they have it in your language? Today you might find the ink and paper version of your book but tomorrow, will there even be ink and paper?
On the other hand, it is reasonable to question how important maintaining thousands of unique or varietal languages might actually be? Have you ever paused to consider how many people speak and read the English language and how few people speak and read Bulgarian? Not that there’s anything wrong with Bulgarian, but don’t you sometimes want to clean up some of the complexity of the world and consolidate a few languages?
Then, why do we even have the confusion resulting from sovereign countries with all that messy patriotism and such?
While technically a language only “dies” when its last speaker does, this is usually preceded by a number of factors including falling out of use in commerce or politics, losing prestige in a particular population, or the loss of competence in the language among young people. Add to this a language’s failure to be used online and you can already hear the bell tolling.
(Read an article on this subject at PlosOne.)