Virtual poster hall to showcase endangered languages

March 9, 2021

English is by far the most commonly-spoken language in the world. Approximately 20 percent of the world’s population speaks English — that’s 1.5 billion people – though only about a quarter of those speak English as their first language. English has become the most commonly studied language in the world and is officially the language of 53 countries. It is increasingly the language of international business and communication.

But while English is flourishing, other languages are languishing. Did you know that we have more than 6,000 languages in the world, and that nearly half of those are endangered?

To bring awareness to some of the languages in crisis, and to begin the conversation about why this should matter and what can be done about it, Auburn University graduate students are hosting a virtual poster hall of linguistic sustainability. Students in a fall 2020 class, “Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition,” learned about concepts of linguistic sustainability and conducted research about an endangered or threatened language in the world.

“There are many internal and external factors leading to the demise of so many languages across the world,” said Jamie Harrison, associate professor of English as a Second Language Education in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Teaching. “While these factors are important to discuss, this virtual display is not meant to delve explicitly into those topics, but rather generate interest in these languages and initiate conversations about their value in our world. These posters represent 14 endangered languages either here in the United States or elsewhere in the world. Several of the languages chosen are indigenous languages of the presenters’ countries and in some cases they are the languages of the presenters’ own communities and families.”

Featured languages indigenous to the U.S. include Munsee Delaware, Chickasaw, Comanche, and Gullah Geechee, a rapidly-vanishing language from the Low Country islands of South Carolina.

International languages to be featured include Ainu (Japan), Ambai, Amahai, and Ternate (Indonesia), Bahasa Iha (New Guinea), Euskera (Basque area of Spain and France), Pashto (Iran), K’Iche’ (Guatemala), Eastern Cham (Cambodia/Vietnam), and Gaelic (Scotch Irish).

In many cases, these languages are spoken by only a handful of elderly people in these countries and regions. In other cases, communities are already taking direct action to support the preservation and continuation of the language in crisis.

The Linguistic Sustainability Endangered Languages Virtual Poster Hall is free and open to everyone. The hall will be on display starting March 8th and will remain online until the end of the month.

We invite you to access the display online. Please sign our guest book while you are there.