Did you know that of the roughly 6,000 languages spoken in the world today, it is estimated that at least 43% are endangered, or to some extent endangered, and are likely to disappear in this century?
What’s even more surprising is that among them are common languages spoken in the British Isles and other thriving European countries.
At Busuu, we want to encourage everyone to keep these languages alive for as long as possible, or just hear and enjoy them before it’s too late.
Here are the 12 most surprising European languages that are critically endangered
- Manx – Critically Endangered (2,000 speakers)
- Cornish – Critically Endangered (8,000-13,000 speakers)
- Jersey French – Endangered (2,000 speakers)
- Guernsey French – Endangered (1,300-1,400 loudspeakers)
- Swiss German – Endangered (4,930,000 speakers)
- Irish – Definitely endangered (77,185 speakers)
- Pontic Greek – Definitely endangered (200,000 speakers)
- Welsh – Vulnerable (750,000 speakers)
- West Flemish – Vulnerable (1,000,000 speakers)
- Scottish – Vulnerable (1,500,000 speakers)
- Belarusian – Vulnerable (4,000,000 speakers)
- Eastern Slovak – Vulnerable (number of speakers unknown)
This list includes languages commonly used in the UK – Irish, Welsh and Scottish.
Cornish, Manx, Guernsey French, and Jersey French are also on the list. These British languages are only spoken by around 3.5% of the country’s population!
In Europe, variants of Flemish, Greek, German and Slovak are also endangered or endangered.
Belarusian is also classified as “at risk” as most Belarusians speak Russian at home, despite being spoken by around four million people.
Swiss German is the most endangered European language on our list and is classified as “Endangered”. Although it is estimated that around five million people speak the language in Switzerland, it is mainly spoken by grandparents and older generations.
The United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) uses a six-level ranking system to determine how vulnerable any language is around the world.
This system marks every language as “safe”, “endangered”, “definitely endangered”, “critically endangered”, “critically endangered” and “extinct”.
Instead of being determined by the number of speakers around the world, the names are mainly determined by the “transmission of a language between generations” – in other words, whether older generations pass the language on to younger generations.
For example, the language is safer when most children speak the language at home, and more vulnerable when the youngest speakers are grandparents and older.
Busuu’s foremost linguist, Federico Espinosa, says, “Many may be shocked to discover that the more popular regional dialects are dying, but unfortunately this is not surprising.
“People no longer choose to live their lives in the same regions as their families. Globalization means that people move around and do not pass on their regional dialect.
“It’s great to see that some are committed to preserving their mother tongue. The Welsh government has set ambitious goals to double the number of native speakers by 2050. This is a really positive step forward. “