Four Tajik minority languages on verge of extinction

Participants at an international scholarly conference on “Disappearing Languages and History” concluded that four languages of Tajik national minorities are on the verge of extinction and called for government action to save them.

Anna Malikova

2009-10-10

DUSHANBE — Participants at an international scholarly conference on “Disappearing Languages and History” concluded that four languages of Tajik national minorities are on the verge of extinction. The conference, organised by the Tajik Academy of Sciences and the International Foundation for Endangered Languages, took place in early October in Khorog. It drew participants from a number of European and Asian countries.

According to Foundation official Nicholas Ostler, there are more than 6,000 languages in the world on the brink of disappearance. “In Tajikistan, these include the language of the Yagnob community in Sogdi Region; Rin, the language of the Ishkashim community; Yazgulyam, the language of the Vanj community; and Roshorv, the language of the Rushan community, the three of which are in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous District,” he said. Yagnob, according to Ostler, is only spoken by approximately 500 people living there. The other 8,000 Yagnobs live elsewhere in the country or abroad and no longer speak their native language. Three other endangered languages also have less than 1,500 speakers each.

Conference participants noted that the main factor in the disappearance of such languages is interethnic homogenisation at the national level. One of the most important factors in language preservation, participants believe, is not written literature, but the speakers’ love for them.

According to a UNESCO estimate, one language in the world fades out of existence every week. With each language, a community and whole strata of world culture also disappears. The specific knowledge developed and shared by the group, based on centuries of observation of flora, fauna and the weather, vanishes. Therefore, conference participants said, states where endangered languages are spoken must do everything in their power to preserve them.

Linguists predict that in 25 years, only a tenth of the current 6,809 languages in the world will continue to be spoken. They contend that at least 1,000 people must to speak a language for it to continue to prevail.

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