Ever heard of Njerep or Tsuut’ina? Don’t worry if you haven’t. After all, they are two of the rarest languages ever. If you are curious to know more about the least spoken languages in the world and smart ways to save them from extinction, you’ve come to the right place.
Literally speechless. Globalization creates economic, political, and social pressures. One consequence is that many people are gradually having to give up their cultural heritage and way of life, including traditional languages. In an attempt for speakers to foster economic and social mobility for themselves and their families, more and more languages are being replaced by more dominant ones. The result: the number of rare languages is increasing. But there’s hope.
Explore with us the seven least spoken languages in the world and how modern-day technology can play a pivotal role in preserving them.
A language becomes rare when only a handful of people, sometimes just a few families, continue to speak it. However, there is more to this. The rarity of a language is also defined by the delicate thread of culture, heritage, and history that it carries.
As the world becomes smaller, these rare languages face an uphill battle. The globalization of a few major languages often leaves the native tongue silenced. What is more, most of the endangered languages lack a writing system. As a result, preserving these linguistic treasures becomes increasingly challenging, especially since learning a dying language rarely appeals to people.
Before we take a closer at what we can do to save the least spoken languages from vanishing into oblivion, let’s get more acquainted with some of the most prominent examples of rare languages.
Join us in our adventure to uncover the hidden gems of the world’s linguistic heritage. Although we cannot list all of them, you will get a good taste of its richness and variety of linguistic treasures. Each of these languages carries a unique history about the cultural heritage of the communities that speak them.
Liki, also known as Moar, is a language found in remote parts of offshore islands in Papua province in Indonesia. The language is at high risk of vanishing as currently there are very few speakers. It features a fascinating phonological system and is crucial to the cultural heritage of its speakers.
Previously known as Ostyak, Khanty is a language spoken by the Khanty people in the Khanty-Mansi and Yamalo-Nenets regions of Siberia, Russia. Although the language has many dialects, the number of its native speakers is significantly decreasing to less than 10,000 according to the latest research.
The language is very unique as it has distinctive phonetics and vocabulary. Another fascinating feature is its evidentiality system. When Khanty speakers communicate, they have a special system that helps them tell if something they're talking about is something they saw with their own eyes or something they heard from someone else. This is important because it helps them share information more clearly and know whether or not it's firsthand.
Formerly known as Sarsi or Sarcee, this language is spoken in the province of Alberta, Canada. The language is deeply intertwined with the rich cultural heritage of indigenous people. Although it has been passed down through generations, today it’s part of the least spoken languages with just a bit over 100 speakers.
With the founding of the Tsuut'ina Gunaha Institute in 2008, the Tsuut'ina nation is taking measures to preserve this and other languages. The Institute aims at revitalizing old indigenous languages in both their spoken and written forms.
Njerep, or Njerup, is a nearly forgotten language spoken in the Adamawa Region, Cameroon. The language is also spoken in Nigeria where according to the last research carried out in 2018, there were four individuals who were fluent in it. Once spoken by a vibrant community, this language is now a poignant example of linguistic and cultural heritage on the brink of extinction.
Paakantyi is part of the largest language family in Australia, namely Pama-Nyungan. It’s been spoken for thousands of years by the Paakantyi people along the Darling River in New South Wales, Australia, which is why it’s also known as Darling language.
Containing knowledge about the local environment, land, and natural resources, the grammatically complex language has a huge cultural historical significance. However, with only a few remaining fluent speakers, the urgency of protecting this language is paramount to preserving the cultural heritage of the Aboriginal community.
Dumi is a Kiranti language spoken by the Dumi Rai people, especially in the mountainous, rugged region of Sankhuwasabha District in Easter Nepal. It features a complex verb agreement system in which verbs are marked for a wide range of distinctions in relation to person, number, and gender. With only a small community of speakers still fluent in the language, mostly among the elderly population, it’s considered a highly endangered language. According to research carried out in 2013 by the Linguistic Survey of Nepal, there are roughly 2500 speakers of the Dumi language.
Romano-Greek, or Greco-Romani, is a hybrid language that has developed over centuries and is spoken by the Romani people in Greece. It’s a variety of the Romance language Vlach, which is why it’s also known as Greco-Vlach. With only a few thousand speakers, most of them elderly, Romano-Greek falls in the category of nearly extinct languages, too.
There are theories that as of today Romano-Greek is used as a secret language spoken in the regions of Thessaly and Central Greece. The language is based on Greek but has a heavy lexical borrowing from Romani, which is where its name comes from.
Currently, there are over 3,000 languages that are considered endangered. The rate at which languages are becoming extinct is alarming as according to research carried out by National Geographic, one language dies every 14 days.
Thanks to initiatives such as the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) or the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages the loss of these languages can be slowed down or reversed through documentation and preservation. In this fight against the extinction of rare languages, AI technology plays a particularly important role.
Artificial intelligence (AI) technology is the modern-day savior that offers hope for preservation of the least spoken languages in the world. One example of the use of AI in preserving endangered languages is the “Enduring Voices” project launched by the National Geographic Society. The goal of the project is to document languages facing extinction and assist indigenous communities in their effort to maintain a given language.
Another way to achieve this is through the use of AI translation devices. Thanks to the machine learning algorithms these devices operate on, even the rarest languages don't escape their radar. Translation devices go beyond their function of bridging language gaps; they also act as time capsules. By offering real-time recording and documenting of these rare languages, they significantly aid linguists and historians in studying and preserving them for future generations. It's like having a digital archive of the past.
AI Translators can bring hope to communities struggling to keep their linguistic and cultural heritage alive. What is more, they also help language enthusiasts learn some of the oldest languages in the world. See for yourself!