Tag Archives: endangered languages

European Day of Languages

We at busuu.com love languages and as it’s the 10th anniversary of the European Day of Languages we would like to present you with one curious language fact for each year.

Before we get going, we have great news for you! Our back-to-school promotion was such a success that we decided to extend the offer and grant you a 15% discount on all our products until Sunday, the 2nd of October 2011.

Just like the Council of Europe, which created the European Day of Languages as part of the European year of languages in 2001, busuu.com wants to encourage language learning, not only in Europe but across the whole world. In case you didn’t already know, our online community connects people from over 200 different countries, with each person teaching their native language whilst also learning new ones.

Today’s blog entry is not so much about learning languages (for study advice, check our motivational tips), but about language curiosities. Did you know that:

1. There are between 6,000 and 7,000 languages in the world – spoken by six billion people.

2. Experts warn that by the end of this century half of these languages will disappear if nothing is done.

3. It is estimated that in the United States alone, 115 out of 280 languages disappeared in the last five centuries.

4. The majority of the world’s languages are spoken in Asia and Africa.

5. At least half of the world’s population are bilingual or multilingual.

6. Bilingualism not only makes the learning of additional languages easier, it enriches the thinking process, as well.

7. Many languages have over 50,000 words, but in everyday conversation people use the same few hundred words.

8. Languages are constantly changing: In the past, English borrowed words from other languages, now many languages borrow English words.

9. At the age of five, a child already has a vocabulary of several thousand words.

10. Back to Europe: There are about 225 indigenous languages in Europe. That’s 3% of the world’s total.

If these facts make you thirstier for more language learning, don’t forget that until the 2nd of October 2011, you get discounted access to our premium memberships and additional products!

PS: Let’s be honest. We didn’t come up with all these facts ourselves. Further information can be found on the website of the European Day of Languages and in the UNESCO‘s data on endangered languages.



Nganasan, The language from the North

Welcome back to our blog for endangered languages!

In this month’s blog entry, we want to give you a small account of Nganasan, a Syberian language that is ranked by the UNESCO as severely endangered. Nganasan is spoken by a small population living on the Siberian Taymyr Peninsula in the Arctic Ocean. According to the 2002 census, only 505 people speak the language.

Nganasan belongs to the so-called Samoyed languages, which stem from the Uralic language family. The root ‘Ngana‘ means ‘true’ or ‘genuine’, whereas ‘Nganasan’ (нганасаны) can be translated as ‘man’ and often these expressions are used together in ngano nganasan – ‘genuine (our) man’.

Until the 1930s the Nganasans led a nomadic life, hunting or breeding reindeer and fishing. Due to their isolated location, the language did not have much contact with other languages (except for other Samoyed languages) until the second half of the 20th century, when they settled in multi-ethnic villages and the language started to decline.

Nganasans aged 40 or less, have only very fragmentary knowledge of Nganasan and Russian has become the first language for the younger generations. Nowadays, Russian words and phrases form part of Nganasan speech and a sudden switch of Nganasan to Russian, depending on the subject or partner, is very common in conversations.

Nganasan has never been a written language; however, in the 1990s, a Cyrillic-based alphabet was created and a small number of books of Nganasan folklore were published. Also since the 1990s, Nganasan has been taught in three schools of the main villages where Nganasans resettled during the second half of the last century.

Nganasan folklore is strongly rooted in story-telling and songs. We found this video to give you an impression of this beautiful Nganasan language and culture:

We hope you will enjoy watching this video as much as we did!

Breton, The language of Brittany’s medieval upper class

“Demat” is what the noble Brittophones would say to greet you.

This month, we want to introduce you to the Breton language, a Brythonic language with Celtic roots spoken by only 200,000 people in Brittany, in the North West of France. Up to the 12th century, this language was spoken by the upper class of the region. In the early 20th century, it was still spoken by 1.3 million people. This drastic decrease in the number of speakers in the last century was the reason why the UNESCO ranked it as a language in severe danger of extinction and why we decided to present it on our blog for endangered languages.

Breton is not legally recognized as an official language by the state of France, nor was it taught in schools until very recently. In 1999, the Office of Breton language was founded to promote Breton in all spheres of social and public life. The network of bilingual schools is currently growing and local communities are beginning to implement proactive language policies to counteract the imminent threat of extinction. Another attempt to bring the Breton vocabulary back to people’s mind is the terminology center TermBret, where, among other functions, one can consult an online dictionary to translate French terms into Breton and vice versa.

A very unique characteristic of Breton is the “zh”, a little orthographic character which allows a common script for two possible pronunciations. In fact, the word Brezhoneg (Breton Language) can be pronounced “brezoneg” or “brehoneg”, depending on the region. This character became very popular and is nowadays the symbol of both Brittany and Breton.

Every language implies a unique mindset, culture and history. The most visible aspect of Breton culture is its music, which is strongly influenced by Celtic rhythms. The work and creativity of musicians and the increasing number and diversity of festivals, fest-noz, have aimed at spreading the Breton culture; also preserving the traditional Breton dance.

Who says that rare languages are only spoken in their original region? Breton is also taught in Alego, Kenya! Beatrice Ouma discovered the Breton language when studying in France and decided to learn and teach it in her country. Her idea was that just as any endangered plant or species, an endangered language needs to be relocated in order to grow stronger. She has taken up the cause of teaching children in her village to count, sing and speak in Breton, in order to keep this foreign language alive.

Try learning Breton yourself! Here you have some basic vocabulary to get a first impression of the language!

Breton French English
Demad! Bonjour ! Hello!
Degemer mad! Bienvenue! Welcome!
Kenavo Au revoir Goodbye
Mar plij S’il te/vous plaît Please
Trugarez Merci thank you
Yec’hed mad! À la vôtre! Cheers!

Patuá, The Sweet Language of Macau

Our blog entries dedicated to endangered languages will continue as promised. This month, our blog will present the “Sweet Language of Macau” or in Macanese (Patuà) the Dóci Língu di Macau. Macau is one of the two special administrative regions of the People’s Republic of China.

Macanese is classified by the Atlas of Endangered Languages as being critically endangered. In fact, The Atlas puts the number of Patuà speakers at 50 as of the year 2000.

What attracted us to this language is not only the danger of it disappearing, but also its history and diversity. Macanese dates back to the 16th century when the Portuguese established their commercial naval base to Asia in the Island of Macau. The new settlers married women from Malacca and Sri Lanka, so the language took on strong Malay and Sinhalese influence. As a proof that languages evolve, develop and are never static, Macanese took on influences as demographic and political changes happened year by year. These influences made this language a unique mix of European and Asian languages. Furthermore, this language that has no known orthography and is a cocktail of grammatical influences, played an important role in the life of Macanese people. In addition to becoming their proudly claimed mother tongue, it was for centuries the reason the community developed socially and commercially. It was as well the only communication mean of the Macau’s Eurasian residents.

Nowadays, the geographical distribution of the Macanese population is at the image of the language itself. It is quite diverse and starts in Macau the origin point of the language, and migrates to reach Hong Kong, California, Canada, Peru, Brazil, Costa Rica, Australia, Portugal, the United Kingdom and Paria peninsula of Venezuela. Even within that community, Macanese is actively spoken by just several dozen old people, mostly women in their eighties or nineties, in Macau and Hong Kong.

We said at the beginning that Patuà is also named the sweet language, and there is a reason for that. The poem below written in Patuà is a reminder of that. We will leave you to ponder on these sweet words. Until we meet again enjoy the sound of the sea and the romantic settings of Macau’s Patuà.

Patuà Portuguese Translation English Translation
Nhonha na jinela A moça na janela Young lady in the window
Co fula mogarim Com uma flor de jasmim With a jasmine flower
Sua mae tancarera Sua mãe é uma Chinesa pescadora Her mother is a Chinese fisherwoman
Seu pai canarim Seu pai é um Indiano Português Her father is a Portuguese Indian

New Blog Series – Endangered Languages – This Month: Squamish

We from busuu.com have ambitious plans! We do not only want to develop the best language learning community in the world but we are also committed to raise awareness about nearly extinct languages.

We have done this already with our highly successful campaigns about the Silbo Gomero and the language Busuu (our funny YouTube video has been viewed by more than 300,000 people around the globe).

Our commitment does not end here, according to the UNESCO, more than the half of the existing 6,700 languages are on the verge of extinction. We will be taking this initiative a step further. We will go around the world, following the UNESCO Atlas of languages in danger. Our mission will be to raise awareness each month on an endangered language, learning more about the community and the culture behind it in an attempt to empower it. Every month you will therefore read on this busuu.com blog about a nearly extinct language (you can subscribe here to our blog to get the articles directly delivered in your inbox). Each month, you will have the chance to learn new words in languages which are about to die out.

With the support of our community, we hope to make our contribution to preserve of the immense variety of languages around the world.

Endangered language of the month: Squamish

For January, we have chosen a North American language that comes straight from under the snow blanketed plains of Canadian British Columbia. Squamish or Swú7mesh Sníchim, according to the UNESCO atlas of languages in danger, is critically endangered, meaning that “the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently”.

Following the traces left by the imprinted words in the snow, we discovered a very interesting language. Squamish is spoken by only 15 people, according to a study done at the University of British Columbia. This language is spread among 6 communities in the Salish coasts of British Columbia. Squamish was overthrown by English at the beginning of the century, and the local community is making great efforts to revive it through language classes, online communities and active revitalization.

A language is only the doorway to hidden cultural wonders. On our pursuit following the Squamish traces, we discovered a world of wonderful architectural and artistic treasures that left us amazed. The longhouse, shown in the image below is a sacred gathering place where legends were whispered softly. Local colorful art work just transports you to another era, another time. Drums suddenly fill the air and magically command you in an aboriginal mystical dance.


This rich culture can only survive if the language is kept alive. Words should be spoken so that their sound echoes, and written so that younger generations remember them. Now it is up to you to help keeping the Squamish flame a live. Listen below to some words in this language! Chen kw’enmántumi! chen (I), kw’enmán (thank [someone]; greet [someone]; grateful), and -tumi [to you], basically thank you in Squamish.

How To Say Thank You by SquamishLanguage