Linguists predict that within two centuries we could be left with just 200 (approximately one per country) and by 2300 we could all be speaking just one language. The last speakers of half of the world’s languages may already be alive today.1

Whose Language?

The Global Players

Most of us speak the same languages already – just 4% of the world’s languages are spoken by 96% of the world’s population.

Six of the top 10 languages are those of colonizing countries – English, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, German, French.1

Nearly 500 languages have fewer than 100 speakers; around 1,500 have fewer than 1,000; 3,340 have fewer than 10,000.5


The Digital Age

Language Hotspots

Some countries are hotbeds of linguistic diversity. Papua New Guinea – with a population of just 6.5 million – tops the list. Europe is the poorest continent, linguistically speaking – only 3% of the world’s native languages are found within its borders.11

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Official recognition of minority languages is important, but is not enough on its own to ensure their survival. Government support is often little more than window-dressing.

  1. Nicholas Ostler, Empires of the Word, 2005
  2. WF Mackey, ‘Status of languages in multilingual societies’, in Status and Function of Languages and Language Varieties, 1989
  3. Suzanne Romaine, ‘Politics and policies of promoting multilingualism in the European Union’, Language Policy Vol 2 Issue 2, May 2013
  4. Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine, Vanishing Voices, 2000
  5. David Crystal, Language Death, 2002
  7. David Harrison, When Languages Die, 2007
  8. Suzanne Romaine, ‘Keeping the promise of the Millennium Development Goals: Why Language Matters’, Applied Linguistics Review Vol 4 Issue 1, March 2013
  10. David Harrison, The Last Speakers, 2010.
  11. Council of Europe,
  12. Indiana University,
  13. Mark Abley, Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages, 2005
  14. Creative Spirits,
  15. Wikipedia,
  16. Wikipedia,
  17. Wikipedia,