Tongue-Tied

The Death of Languages

Not to sour the eve of your St. Patrick's Day, but: Gaelic is now on the endangered list of languages, with only 30,000 fluent speakers left in the world. A recent study claims half of the world’s 7,000 languages may disappear by 2100, and UNESCO has created an extensive list of those endangered, categorizing more than 2,400 as at risk of extinction. Language extinction is largely tied to the advent of agriculture—as hunter-gatherers joined together, their smaller languages were wiped out. Some dialects are a shame to lose: Tofa, spoken in Siberia, allowed speakers to describe with a single word, "a two-year-old male, un-castrated, ridable reindeer."