Every fortnight, another language fades into silence, lost to the annals of history. Linguists issue a solemn warning that in the coming century, a staggering 50-90% of the world’s diverse linguistic tapestry may vanish forever. This crisis knows no geographical bounds; it strikes developing nations as well as corners of Europe, even within the United Kingdom.
Before these linguistic treasures disappear into oblivion, let us turn our gaze toward the ten most endangered languages in Europe.
1. Cappadocian Greek
Native Speakers: 2,800
Cappadocian Greek is the tongue of descendants from the Cappadocian Greeks, who, in the 1920s, were compelled to relocate from Turkey to Greece. Originating during the Byzantine Empire, it diverged from Medieval Greek when the Byzantine Empire lost control of the region to Turkish speakers in 1071. Despite enduring the test of time, this variant evolved in isolation and bears a heavy Turkish influence. Following their return to Greece, many Cappadocian Greeks learned standard Greek. Remarkably, this dialect was believed extinct in the 1960s until researchers from Ghent University and the University of Patras rediscovered around 2,800 speakers of Cappadocian descent in 2005.
Native Speakers: 200-1,000
Tsakonian, the sole surviving descendant of Doric Greek, stands on the brink of oblivion. While occasionally classified as a modern Greek dialect, it is mutually unintelligible with its contemporary counterpart. Spoken by the Tsakonians in the Peloponnese region of Greece, this language has dwindled due to the pressures of modernity and mass media. Presently, only a dwindling population of 200-1,000 elderly individuals retains this linguistic treasure, with the next generation showing little interest, thus jeopardizing its survival within the next century.
Native Speakers: 70
The diminutive Wymysorys, a Germanic language, finds its voice solely in the Polish town of Wilamowice. Originating from settlers hailing from Flanders, Friesland, Holland, and Scotland in the 1300s, this language persisted until after World War II when communist authorities suppressed it due to its Germanic roots.
4. Pite Sami
Pite Sami, now spoken by fewer than 50 individuals, is confined to the Swedish side of the Swedish-Norwegian border near the Pite River.
Country: Traditionally Slovenia, but most speakers now live in the US.
Number of Speakers: Unknown
Gottscheerish, the language of the Gottscheers, German-speaking settlers who migrated to what is now part of Slovenia during the 1300s, shares kinship with Bavarian dialects but remains unintelligible to modern German. Traditionally oral, it was discouraged by the Yugoslavian government after World War II. Notably, the majority of its remaining speakers reside in Queens, New York.
6. Ume Sami
Once the traditional language of the Sami along the Ume River in Sweden and Norway, Ume Sami now lingers in the voices of a handful of elderly Sami in Sweden. It was the first Sami language to be transcribed, yet it never developed an official written form.
Country: Formerly Turkey
Hértevin, an Eastern Aramaic language primarily spoken by Chaldean Catholics in southeastern Turkey, faces an uncertain future. The migration of most speakers to the West, coupled with their isolation from one another, casts a shadow of doubt on its survival.
Countries: Lithuania, Crimea, Poland, and Ukraine
Karaim, a Hebrew-influenced Turkic language traditionally spoken by some Crimean Karaites, counts only about 80 native speakers. Most reside in Lithuania’s town of Trakai, which holds the largest Karaim-speaking community. This language is recognized as a minority language in Poland and Ukraine and is intertwined with Trakai’s cultural appeal for tourists.
Country: Cornwall, United Kingdom
Speakers: Approximately 3,500
Cornish, a Celtic language once silenced by English dominance, began its resurgence in 1904. Recognized as a minority language by both the UK government and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, it is taught in Cornish schools, with its speakers gradually increasing in number.
Country: Isle of Man, United Kingdom
Speakers: About 100
Manx, a Celtic language spoken on the Isle of Man, narrowly escaped extinction. Although declared extinct by UNESCO in 2009, it was revived through dedicated efforts before that last native speaker passed away in 1974, earning it the classification of “critically endangered.”
These languages are not mere words; they are rich repositories of culture and history, each facing the inexorable march of time. The battle to preserve them remains a testament to human resilience and the enduring power of language.
Reference: The Language Blog