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Prosperity is Why Languages Die, Say Researchers

Sep 03, 2014 04:07 PM EDT

Researchers are claiming that economic prosperity, an undeniably good thing, is behind the extinction of language diversity around the world. That then raises the question, "is adapting a universal language the natural progression of things?"

According to a study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, developed regions such as north Australia and the northwestern corners of the United States and Canada are "hotspots" for language extinction.

The research authors now call for "immediate attention" to these regions, desperate to conserve the diversity of language across the globe.

"As economies develop, one language often comes to dominate a nation's political and educational spheres. People are forced to adopt the dominant language or risked being left out in the cold - economically and politically," Tatsuya Amano, from the University of Cambridge, explained in a recent statement.

"Of course everyone has the right to choose the language they speak, but preserving dying language is important to maintaining human cultural diversity in an increasingly globalized world."

The study measured the threat to languages just like they would for classifying endangered species, basing threat level off prevalence and local conditions.

In the northwest corner of North America, for instance, a language spoken by indigenous Athabaskan people in eastern Alaska had only 24 active speakers as of 2009, and was no longer being acquired by children - meaning it's due for extinction very soon, if it's not already gone.

The researchers also found that a rising gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was directly correlated with the loss of language diversity in a region.

But, Amano added that just because there is an increasing need for a global language across the world for economic reasons, that alone shouldn't be a reason to let older and fascinating languages (and the rich cultures associated with them) die off.

"Encouraging those bilingualisms will be critical to preserving linguistic diversity," he added.

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