Saving endangered languages from extinction

I have been thinking about this for a few months now, but I never really posted anything. Every now and then I look at this blog, because I have always wanted to learn Gaelic.

The Irish dialect is doing better than the Scottish and Welsh. In fact, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh are considered endangered. This website is an interesting report of what they are doing to save Gaelic from extinction.

What I think they need to do is to not follow the traditional ways of learning languages in school (we all know how non-effective THAT is) but rather set up a large amount of authentic content at LingQ.

I cant wait for a few months when LingQ is at the point where it is ready to accept many many languages. I think LingQ would be great for not just me for learning Scottish Gaelic, but for them for saving their own language.

Also, if the languages do happen to go extinct, LingQ (and the rest of the internet) could be used as a rich collection of the language for future historians to go back and explore. I think of it as a potential time capsule.

Anyway, this is just me and and my thoughts. I emailed the webmaster of the save gaelic page and introduced LingQ. I really hope that one day LingQ will be able to be a tool to help save and preserve these languages.


As someone who’s learned a decent amount of Welsh, and has contact with the Welsh-speaking community, I would disagree that Irish is better off than Welsh. Irish, though official in Ireland, has pretty much been relegated to the Gaeltacht, a sort of “language preserve” where is it kept alive. If you’re in Dublin, you won’t hear any Irish, though you’ll see it everywhere, since the country is “officially” bilingual. In Wales, on the other hand, there are still quite a few areas where the natural language for people to speak is Welsh. Overall, about 20% of the population of Wales claims to be able to speak Welsh. I do think, however, the Welsh would still have to be considered “endangered”.

I’ve thought about doing Welsh with LingQ. Up till now I’ve been listening to Welsh-language radio programs and doing lots of reading, but the flashcard work has all been on my own.

I’m not knocking Irish, by the way, and am all for preserving the Celtic languages, so good luck if you go for it.

Jim W.


Thanks for the clarification. I am glad to know the Welsh are preserving their language. From what I know of the Welsh, they are a proud people and I cant imagine them giving up their original language without a fight!

I’m an odd one myself, I love Irish music and Scottish Gaelic. But once you pick up one of the dialects, It should be easy to learn another… perhaps. what do you think?

I would love to learn Manx myself, to bad it has officially died off. In the meantime I have Japanese and French to worry about.

Manx has been revived and there are now around 1700 speakers (50 or 60 of them native). See:

So no excuses!

Actually, of the world’s 6912 surviving languages (there used to be thousands more), about half of them have less than 3000 speakers and are likely to die out in the next 50 to 100 years. I think most of the world’s population only speak around 4% of those 6912 languages.

There was a story not so long ago about the last two surviving speakers of a language (can’t remember which now) and they fell out and stopped speaking to each other which I thought was both funny and sad at the same time!

I hope I won’t be flayed alive for saying this, but I’m not a fan of the idea of saving languages for their own inherent sake. There has to be some external motivation. And I’m not saying it has to be a motivation that anyone else shares. For instance, the fact that jyoshikousei16 loves Irish music is a motivation for her to learn Gaelic. It may not be a good enough motivation, however, to force shopkeepers to have all of their signs printed in both English and Gaelic.

It should be all about people with common interests uniting for common efforts, such as working on obtaining recordings or transcripts for posterity, convincing people to learn their heritage and its language, or even those shopkeepers spending the extra expense on those signs because the language’s preservation is important to them. If the people who speak a particular language haven’t handed down anything other people have found valuable, I can’t see a reason for a major effort to preserve it.

Perhaps this would be a good springboard to a thread entitled “Why I Study Languages”; my main motivation is that there are lots of people out there who have lots of thoughts I would love to hear (and exchange), and who’ve written a lot of beautiful literature I want to enjoy and learn from. I also love history, and “living history”–i.e., how people are living differently in different places–is fascinating.

I think people should follow their passions, and whenever appropriate proclaim their reasons for those passions–perhaps with the view of attracting more devotees for wider support.

I hope this didn’t come across as dismissive–it’s a great subject for a site like this. :slight_smile:


Thanks for the article. I think I originally checked out the language list on wikipedia, where they classify it as officially dead (since all the native speaker died on December 27th 1974)
the list is here

But I am glad to see that there is an effort to save the language. I think the revival of the language was due in large part to the recordings they made of the language in the 1940s.

So I guess Manx is more like latin in a way


Your point didn’t come across as dismissive. They have the same arguments going on all the time in the US. Should the states be providing more English-Spanish bi-lingual menus etc. I think Steve would agree that when you force a language upon people who don’t want to learn it nor use it, it is not in the least bit effective. Take for example English in Japan. Almost every Japanese spends 7 years “learning” English in their schools because they “have to pass the test.” This compared to the number of Japanese who can successfully use the language after graduation is pathetic. I am optimistic, so I think the system in Japan has probably a 0.01% success rate. But it just goes to show that you have a point.

Steve says you can’t force a language, and I am sure He to agrees that finding a passion for the language is key for success.

As for Gaelic, I think that the languages have a rich history of stories and literature which are fascinating for me.

jdixon5: I agree there is no point in saving a language if nobody wants to speak it. Maybe I should rephrase that and say if the young don’t want to speak it because that’s what generally kills a language. But for many of the world’s indigenous people, a language is more than just speech - it defines who they are. I’ve cribbed this extract from the BBC series Tribe because they say it far better than I can:

"Around three-quarters of the world’s 6,000 languages are spoken by indigenous people. Each of those languages embodies their perceptions, beliefs and knowledge. Language is inseparable from the identity and well-being of any group, and is the means for carrying traditions through generations.

The diversity of indigenous languages across continents is enormous - and evidence of the vast spans of time during which these societies have existed. In pre-settled California alone, linguists estimate that the original populations spoke about 80 different languages, most now extinct. These languages are generally without a written tradition; almost all forms of history, spirituality and practical knowledge depend on the spoken word, and are lost once a language has died.

Language is what gives an individual their identity and confirms their links with their family, community and culture. Additionally, language is often a source of pride and one of the attributes that defines a tribal group from the dominant culture. More fundamentally for tribal people in animist cultures (those who believe that plants and objects in the world around them have souls), there is a magical connection between a word and the object or person it names. The act of naming penetrates to the inner heart of creation. To lose their language is to forfeit not only their connection with the world, but also their power over it."

jyoshikousei16: Thanks for the link. It appears we are both right. Manx isn’t quite like Latin though because the Romans never left any recordings, well none that I know of :wink: There are always heated arguments over just how Latin was pronounced. And I’m sure Manx can’t possibly be half as difficult to learn as Latin!

One of our long term goals here is to help speakers of minor languages, especially where text books are not available, to maintain these languages and help others to learn them.

My dream is to eventually learn and use Irish Gaelic, but I do agree that when you force a language on a person or a people, it tends to have the opposite effect.
Steve, I would definitely be the first in line to use LingQ for Irish. Hopefully we can get enough native speakers to help with the project!

@moira_a - We are happy to add Irish Gaelic if there is enough interest. If you want Gaelic added, you should mobilize your friends and social networks to get out the vote on our Facebook vote page - LingQ.

I remember reading an article about efforts to save Irish Gaelic on the Deutsche Welle a few months ago…how different TV programs like South Park are getting dubbed in Irish and books portraying the language as “cool” and “sexy” are being printed to attract prospective learners–namely, hip young 'uns :wink:

In Germany, some of the Bundesstaaten (==federal states) are trying to pass legislation (I think?) that would encourage/require the use and instruction of regional dialects in Kindergarten classes in addition to standard German…a similar situation exists in Switzerland, I think, where’s there’s discussion about using dialect more in the schools. Just something I thought of :slight_smile: I think it’s great to promote minority/regional languages if there are still people willing to use it.

The issue of language preservation is quite a complicated one - and it changes a lot depending on the circumstances.

Ireland’s situation is one where you have an independent nation with a traditional language that has been largely supplanted by a foreign language. As it happens, being a native speaker of this foreign langauge is incredibly useful. In the end, it will be up to Irish people - do they want to speak to each other in Irish or in English.

In North America, there are lots of language preservation efforts on the go. Some are going better than others - but since most aborginal groups are relatively small, it may be easier to take the view “we speak Cree/Hopi/Mohawk/etc. to each other, but English to others” - as there is no shortage of others. It’s easier to have a kind of bilingual life, in some senses, than in an independent country like Ireland where most people may not actually want to start speaking to each other in Irish again.

Also, very large databases of audio have been made for many endangered languages. In some cases, this is all that can be done. I worked on a project which involved the very last speaker of a language. There was nothing that could really be done other than to record her.

One other point is that adults are often reluctant to themselves participate in language restoration. They are happy to have their kids “study” it in school, but may not do anything about it themselves. If kids see that their parents are not participating, it doesn’t bode well for success rates, I think.

And of course the old wisdom is that if kids stop speaking the language in the playground, then its chances are not good.

I agree that LingQ would be a very good tool for language restoration, but in and of itself, it won’t be sufficient. It will help the adults join the process, but I think it will be less useful with small children - who are often one of the main targets of language restoration programs.

I would add that for Irish, Welsh, and Scots Gaelic, there are native speakers young and old, and there are geographical areas where native speakers predominate. As long as that status quo is maintained, the situation is not dire. These countries can afford to take a long-term, multigenerational perspective with the aim of growing their traditional language.

Many aboriginal groups are in the situation where it is mostly elders who are native speakers, and the grandchildren may not speak the language at all. The situation is a bit more urgent for many.

I’d like to throw in a plug for Cornish and Jersey French.

Welsh lives!

I have started using the Czech Beta language area of LingQ for learning Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. Ethiopa has about 82 indigenous languages, some of which are spoken by many people, others by only a few. Most people in Addis Abeba, the capital city of Ethiopia (around 8 million inhabitants) speak Amharic.

I am in the process of creating texts with sound files and LingQing my unknown vocabulary. Progress is slow, but I will try to import many texts over time. I am using very old school books, re-workings of news programs and texts I am writing myself that will be corrected and improved by my teacher. He, by the way, is very interested in LingQ and has taken out a free membership. Because people here are by western standards extremely poor financially, he cannot afford to pay for a subscription.

Are there plans for creating opportunities for schools and similar institutions to take out group memberships? I think this would help him, and other teachers.

By the way, the following is a sample of Amharic text. The meaning is something like ‘Nobel Peace Prize Awards to Women’. የሰላም ኖቤል ተሸላሚ ሴቶች

Each symbol usually stands for a consonant followed by a vowel. The symbols have slight modifications from the basic form that changes the sound of the vowel. By the way, the symbol that looks like a Greek lambda with the left leg shortened stands for the sound ‘la’. The other one, with the little circle on the left leg, stands for ‘l’ at the end of Nobel. Interessant, oder?

@rae68 - If your friend is interested in group memberships, have him contact us for further information.

Out of some 7000 languages that are spoken today. 90% of them will be dead by 2050.
I think the ethnologue said this. I remember reading it sometime.
Regions like Sub-Saharan Africa have over 2000 languages. Where only a chunk have the foundation to survive as is.

Save as many as you can, from as many different branches of language families as you can. To preserve the diversity.
Each one is slightly special, and an insight into the beauty of the human brain.

I can speak Irish, but it is worth noting something. Many native speakers/people who are fluent in the language in Ireland are very stuck up about it and not willing to share the knowledge. In the Gaeltacht, if you walk into a pub and order something in Irish they will respond to you in English. If you talk to people from the west of Ireland (mainly the older generation) you will find that most people don’t care about the language because they were turned off by the sense of elitism.

That being said, it is a cultural language for me, so I enjoyed learning it. If you guys needed any help putting something together for Linq for Irish I would be more than happy to help.