The Effects of Language Extinction on Cultural Identity in Third World Countries

Language extinction has grown immensely in third world countries recently, stripping many from their cultures. Some see language extinction as a positive effect because narrowing down the number of languages can lead to easier communication between people. Others see it as a negative effect because the growth of language extinction means the increase of dying cultures. There are some that think of language extinction as neither beneficial nor harmful and think there should be a greater focus on the other problems surrounding third world countries. Language extinction may not be the biggest issue in these countries, but should still be focused on, and resolved through the preservation of endangered languages, due to the death of people’s cultural identities, traditions, and morals.

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The term “third world country,” also known as a “developing country,” is a country that is in need of becoming more advanced or modern economically and socially, for example, some of the countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Oceania. Third world countries face many problems like poverty, starvation, hazardous water sources, high death rates, corrupt governments, inadequate education, and poor sanitary conditions. These issues in developing countries overshadow the issue of language extinction, with language extinction just now being paid attention to in recent years. Languages are often looked at serving valuable references of group belongings that allow people of different ethnicities or nationalities to know what group they belong to, and what similar heritage they may share (“‘Our Languages are Dying’”). Extinction or loss of a language is not only looked at as one less way to say “hello,” but is also looked at as the death or loss of a culture (“‘Our Languages are Dying’”). Languages are utilized like tools for comprehension of people’s realities, a person’s language influences the way they perceive the atmosphere around them, their beliefs, their actions, their speech or diction, and their behavior in social situations (“‘Our Languages are Dying’”).

Due to the lack of light shined on the issue of language extinction there is now a growing fear of alteration or abandonment to one’s native tongue indicating a possibility of their language not surviving till the twenty-second century (“‘Our Languages are Dying’”). “It is estimated that only ten percent of the present languages in the world will survive” (“‘Our Languages are Dying’”). The article “‘Our Languages are Dying’” comes from a non-profit organization, Cultural Survival, the organization works to keep the vast amount of cultures alive. Many languages are endangered, in danger or at risk of becoming extinct; ninety percent of languages are predicted to vanish with this generation (Abrams and Strogatz). Daniel M. Abrams one of two of the authors of “Linguistics: Modelling the Dynamics of Language Death,” is a professor; the other author Steven H. Strogatz has attended many refined colleges such as Princeton, Cambridge, and Harvard. Languages are representations of people’s cultures and ethnic classification ’s that are being stripped away with the increase in the number of languages disappearing or vanishing sooner than one may think.

The Earth’s population is continuously growing with third world countries making up the majority of the population and first world countries, like the United States and small parts of Europe, making up the minority. “The Earth’s population of seven billion people speaks roughly 7,000 languages;” comparing the number of languages to the population amount there should be about one million people speaking each language (Rymer). With the accelerated deterioration of the many languages in the world, many are referring to it as a “linguistic genocide” (Wolfin). Adrian Wolfin, the author of the article “Falling Silent,” has written articles for the organization and magazine New Internationalist. “Seventy- Eight percent of the world’s population speaks the eighty-five largest languages, while the 3,500 smallest languages share a mere eight and one-fourth of a million speakers” (Rymer). In the next one hundred years linguists, a person who studies languages, believe approximately half of the Earth’s amount of languages have a possibility of vanishing or becoming extinct (Rymer). “More than one thousand languages are listed as critically or severely endangered;” with one language statistically becoming extinct every fourteen days. (Rymer).

Languages that are spoken in remote or abandoned places, like many areas in third world countries, are now not being protected by any national borders or natural barriers from the dominating languages, like English, in control of world communication and trade (Rymer). The article “Vanishing Voices,” written by Russ Rymer, was published in a widely popular magazine National Geographic. Smaller or minuscule languages are being dominated by the more known or popular languages for ease of communication and business matters between countries causing many smaller spoken languages to disappear or become extinct stripping people from what should be their native tongue. The cause for many languages being abandoned is due to multiple factors, from parents not teaching the language to their children, smaller languages being dominated by larger languages, or genocide, mass murder of a particular group of people. Many parents in tribal settlements or communities, like those found in many third world countries, commonly are found not teaching their children their native tongue, what is supposed to be their first language, but are instead teaching languages that are said to provide improved education and achievements (Rymer).

Often parents that speak smaller languages do not find the need to teach their language to their child since it is considered uncommon; they view communicating the small language not convenient or unbeneficial to their child’s future (“‘Our Languages are Dying’”). Many people believe abandoning their native tongue will be beneficial to them economically; the reason for this belief is due to the media mainly showing more popular languages causing people who speak smaller languages to feel isolated (Ostler). Because of the isolating feel, people will abandon their native tongue and the many traditions that come with the language to learn the more “beneficial” language for them (Ostler). Commonly the younger generation loses interest in the smaller language and older generations lose hope trying to keep the language alive due to the disrespect they have undergone for living with a small language (Ostler). Nicholas Ostler, the author of the article “Endangered Languages-Lost Worlds,” is a linguist, a person who studies languages, making him knowledgeable about languages and diction. Sometimes genocide is the cause for language extinction, if a population that speaks a certain language is suddenly murdered so is their language, traditions, and culture (Woodbury). “Often a community is pressured to give up its language, and even ethnic and cultural identity” (Woodbury).

In some places, it is prohibited by law and people are punished for writing or teaching their language causing many languages to become extinct (Woodbury). Anthony C. Woodbury, the author of “What Is an Endangered Language?,” is a linguist and a member of the organization “Linguistic Society of America.” “Languages evolve, flourish, and disappear through history… modern commerce and communications are assimilating thousands of once remote societies – and their language – into one global culture (Hayden). Thomas Hayden, the author of the article “Losing Our Voices,” is a journalist and a director at Stanford University. Each cause of language extinction is linked to the reason for the loss of many diverse cultures and traditions. Despite language extinction affecting cultures and traditions it also affects science and knowledge. The loss of a language means information loss which can create instability in an ethnic group; culture is the foundation of stability or the feeling of security, and when a language becomes extinct it creates isolation, discouragement, and irritation (Hayden). When a language becomes extinct not only is culture and traditions lost but “many fields of science – from evolutionary biology and anthropology to ecology and neuroscience – will be impoverished” (Cookson).

Each language that becomes extinct and is not documented or recorded leaves a tremendous gap in people’s knowledge or comprehension of some of the complicated anatomy the human mind is possible of conceiving (Cookson). Scientists hope to document languages before they become extinct to hopefully preserve the minimum of a small portion of its culture and scientific inheritance (Cookson). Any language that becomes extinct is considered a loss to science, however, some languages that are considered rarer are more valuable than others (Cookson). Clive Cookson, the author of “Linguists Speak Out for the Dying Tongues: LANGUAGE: Scientists are Engaged in a Race Against Time to Research and Catalogue the World’s Disappearing Dialects, Writes Clive Cookson:: [LONDON 1ST EDITION],” is an editor and journalist for Financial Times and studies many fields of sciences. As language extinction increases linguists are now trying to categorize and decide the most valuable languages to preserve based on the amount of useful information they have to offer and what insights are being lost (Rymer).

Many linguists are attempting to learn as much as they possibly can about the endangered languages before they become extinct so not all beneficial knowledge is lost when the language vanishes (Woodbury). Language loss not only means the loss of a culture, which is already horrid enough itself, it also means the loss of valuable knowledge and science. There are many potential solutions to solving language extinction, and if the solutions were followed through it could mean the preservation of many diverse cultures and valuable knowledge. A possible solution to language extinction could be enforcing policies, improving education, and advertising to make the endangered languages more known (Abrams and Strogatz). The increasing number of conferences, workshops, and publications are now offering more support for people, schools, and communities that are attempting to preserve smaller or endangered languages (Woodbury). Many researchers are also trying to preserve endangered languages, so valuable knowledge is not lost, by making “videotapes, audiotapes, and written records of language use in both formal and informal settings, along with translations” (Woodbury).

Many linguists are also working with communities that wish to preserve their language by offering “technical and practical help with language teaching, maintenance, and revival” and are also writing many dictionaries and grammars of the endangered languages (Woodbury). Many linguists are encouraging people to become multilingual, a person fluent of multiple languages, or at least bilingual, a person fluent in two languages, to maintain their native tongue while learning an international language (Cookson). There are also many organizations working to bring attention to language extinction and the need to record endangered languages (Pollak). Michael Pollack, the author of the article “World’s Dying Languages, Alive on the Web,” has had many of his articles published in the magazine The New York Times. It should be known that people do not have to give up their language or culture, just because it is uncommon, for a more popular dominating language.

As seen in the Frida Kahlo painting “Self Portrait Between the Borderline of Mexico and the United States,” Mexico and the United States, two different cultures can collide without either having to give up their traditions or languages. Frida Kahlo, a Mexican, can still preserve her language and culture while adopting a language that may be known as more beneficial for her in the United States. However, some argue that there should be nothing done to preserve endangered languages because multiple languages can cause harder communication between people. People argue that society is lacking in change, of embracing multiple cultures, and should embrace a global culture for a faster development of economy (“‘Our Languages are Dying’”). Many languages can lead to uncontrollable people and unsteady governments; societies with many cultures are often hard to keep under control due to the diverse amount of morals and traditions (Ostler).

Many think it would be much easier to abandon their smaller language and adopt a more international language to communicate with others easier and provide more economic benefits to themselves (Ostler). People also argue that languages have been disappearing for a long time and will continue to disappear, therefore there is no point in the preservation of the endangered languages (Ostler). Another argument is that third world countries need to focus on developing their country instead of trying to preserve a language or culture, however, without a person’s culture, there is no meaning to life. Despite people’s arguments for not preserving endangered languages, there is no denying that cultures and traditions are lost when a language dies. In conclusion, language extinction not only causes the death of cultures, traditions, and morals but also results in the loss of knowledge and science. Preserving endangered languages must be done to keep traditions and valuable or beneficial knowledge alive for future generations. Many things can be done to preserve languages like specific schools that teach the endangered language, documenting the language, or teaching younger generations to become bilingual. Third world countries are already surrounded by multiple issues, there is no need for the increase of language extinction to become a bigger issue when it can be easily resolved. A person without their native tongue, or what is supposed to be their first language, are missing a huge chunk of their cultural identity.

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The Effects of Language Extinction on Cultural Identity in Third World Countries. (2019, Apr 10). Retrieved February 5, 2023 , from

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