Professor Lindell Bromham (Australia National University) says that of the world’s 7,000 recognised languages, around half were currently endangered. The study raises key points on the argument for educational curricula, fostering both indigenous language proficiency and regionally-dominant languages and perhaps a downside to our increased globalisation.
“Across the 51 factors or predictors we investigated, we also found some really unexpected and surprising pressure points. This included road density,” Professor Bromham said. “Contact with other local languages is not the problem — in fact languages in contact with many other Indigenous languages tend to be less endangered. But we found that the more roads there are, connecting country to city, and villages to towns, the higher the risk of languages being endangered. It’s as if roads are helping dominant languages ‘steam roll’ over other smaller languages.”
Despite the multicultural tapestry of modern Australian society, implications of this forecasted trajectory not only apply to First Nations languages of which only 40 are spoken today in comparison to over 250 pre-colonisation but to the diversity in nationalities our country comprises of.
On the one hand, you could interpret the current state identified here as covert remnants of assimilation, the classic sentiment many foreigners might have also experienced “learn the language or go home” in modern culture.
Yet when an English speaker travels overseas for example, could there bean underlying expectation for the hosting country to speak their language and risk of irritation when not being understood? Across Europe, English is the universal language that makes international business possible between its 44 countries.
“When a language is lost, or is ‘Sleeping’ as we say for languages that are no longer spoken, we lose so much of our human cultural diversity. Every language is brilliant in its own way” says Professor Bronman.
“Australia has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest rates of language loss worldwide,” adds Professor Felicity Meakins, from the University of Queensland.