UNESCO's endangered language report: We've lost Manx

Posted by: Emily McManus


The newest edition of UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger totes up 6,000 world languages — and counts 2,500 as endangered and 200 as completely lost. The interactive atlas, released today, ranks the 2,500 endangered languages by five levels of vitality: unsafe, definitely endangered, severely endangered, critically endangered and extinct. This free, browsable resource complements a print version to be released next month. From UNESCO’s announcement:

For example, the Atlas states that 199 languages have fewer than ten speakers and 178 others have 10 to 50. Among the languages that have recently become extinct, it mentions Manx (Isle of Man), which died out in 1974 when Ned Maddrell fell forever silent, Aasax (Tanzania), which disappeared in 1976, Ubykh (Turkey) in 1992 with the demise of Tevfik Esenc, and Eyak (Alaska, United States of America), in 2008 with the death of Marie Smith Jones.

Browse UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger >>

For more on endangered languages, watch Wade Davis’ 2003 TEDTalk on cultures at the far edge of the world:

UPDATE: Or check out this less-than-scholarly dictionary of endangered slang >>

Comments (2)

  • Allan Paterson commented on Feb 20 2009

    Amongst the embers, there are flickers. Where there is real value, there is real hope for survival. A culture of inspiration and innovation doesn’t lose core behaviours without a fight. Yes, 52% of Manx inhabitants may, like me, not be native to the Isle of Man, but rather than wiping out the culture and the language, we contribute to its organic growth – which is not a conservative behaviour, instead it is exciting to see and to be part of this small island jurisdiction, with the world’s oldest continuous parliament, as it fights strongly and proudly to hold its place on the global playing field. And as such, I can assure you that there is still a pride in the Manx language – it is still taught as part of the education on the island – it is still present in street names – it is still part of the regular business of the Parliament. If TED can take a message from this, it has to be about looking at what brings pride and cohesion to a community, to a programme, to a team – and that the old things can have just as much value as the new things. It is one thing that is a particular issue in a community like this – when the new guy comes along to join the team and says “Your ideas – old hat! My ideas – absoluitely the only ones that count!”

  • Magnus Lindkvist commented on Feb 19 2009

    I cannot help but feel that posts like these represent TED at its most conservative. Why do we insist on romanticizing ancient languages that arguably noone wants to speak anymore? What about the hundreds of new programming languages that have sprung up in the past decades? Or the infinite variations of English that people are adopting and “remixing” to make their own around the world? These are real languages and show a lot more vitality than Manx and Tirahi.