UNESCO estimates that one language disappears every fourteen days.  As a result, by 2100 more than half of the world’s 7000 languages will have been lost – irrevocably eradicated by the increasing dominance of languages like English, Spanish, and Mandarin.  And it is not just the languages themselves which are vanishing; with each lost language culture, heritage, and identity are also forgotten.

There are numerous reasons for this alarming demise, some dating back to historical oppression of native languages and others stemming from modern technology and conventions.  Icelandic, the Nordic Business Insider states, is being increasingly marginalised in favour of English - the language of tourism and technology - and languages such as Maltese are also facing a similar fate. 

Whilst this loss of linguistic diversity is intangible to many, Sorcha Delaney, from Twickenham, has witnessed first-hand the change in usage of Irish, a language identified as ‘definitely endangered’ by UNESCO.  “People spoke more Irish when I was growing up than they do now,” Sorcha admits, adding “And some of the new spelling [some Irish words have been anglicised] is very dodgy!” 

This anglicisation, however, is not confined to obscure or minority languages; Vanesa Smrikarova, from Wimbledon, speaks Bulgarian and has noticed a “definite English influence, particularly in terms of technology”, whilst Margaret Kenny, a French teacher at Ursuline, has seen similar shifts in French.  “A huge amount of English is coming into French in specific areas like technology, music, and slang; the impact of English on French is increasing all the time.”  With such overwhelming evidence of the increasing influence of larger languages, the vital necessity of preserving and protecting the others is urgently apparent.

Also aware of the vulnerability of smaller languages is Katelijne Rothschild, who grew up In Belgium but now lives in Kent.  West Flemish, a regional dialect spoken only in West Flanders (Vlaanderen), is classified as ‘vulnerable’ and Katelijne, who speaks ordinary Flemish, can see why.  “It’s hard for other Flemish people to understand,” she explains, “And it’s even harder on an international level.  Tourism is an important source of income for West-Vlaanderen, but they can’t use their local dialect, not even for Flemish people from other provinces.”  Reluctantly, Katelijne concludes that, in the face of such adversity, “West Flemish might well become extinct in the future.”

But why should this matter?  According to Ella Francis Sanders, author and illustrator of Lost in Translation and Speaking in Tongues, “All of our spoken languages are wondrous.  We live things because we say them, but humans often need words that their own language does not contain, and this is why being aware of other cultures and ways of being can be so astonishing. This isn’t to say that other forms of communication aren’t just as important, but verbal language is something ancient and entirely unshakable.”

Later this month, the Southbank Centre’s Poetry International Festival will feature the Endangered Poetry Project, an initiative celebrating the diversity and importance of those languages at risk of extinction.  Anyone who knows a poem in one of UNESCO’s endangered languages is encouraged to submit it to this scheme (https://southbankcentre.typeform.com/to/rp3mEh), and help to prevent the irreversible and tragic loss of the world’s languages – before it is too late.