Lost languages

14th February 2003 at 00:00
* According to the Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger of Disappearing, Europe alone has more than 50 threatened languages. Of these, no fewer than 14 are in France, while many of the remainder are in Siberia.

* Large parts of Asia are under pressure from Chinese, and while most of the 2,000 living languages in the Pacific region are in good health, the situation in Australia, where Aborigines were forbidden to speak their 400 or so languages until the 1970s, is particularly bad, with only 25 now commonly used.

* Of the 1,400 local languages and dialects in Africa, between 500 and 600 are declining, while 250 are in serious danger.

* In North America, where hundreds of indigenous languages were obliterated by European tongues, the survivors are now suffering as a result of conservative policies in the 1980s, says the atlas.

* In Central and South America, where Europeans exterminated not only languages but entire peoples, around 375 tongues are still spoken, although a large number of these are still under serious threat from Spanish and Portuguese - 14 of them in Mexico alone.

* One bright spot in this catalogue of decline is the Indian sub-continent, where most languages have remained alive thanks to bilingual or multilingual government policies.

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