Endangered Chadic languages

On LINGUIST List, Issue 20.1386, our colleague Roger Blench asks: “Do any other linguists out there sense a worrying gap between the rhetoric concerning documentation in relation to endangered languages and the reality?” Roger reminds us that “out there, languages seem to be disappearing at an alarming rate with a complete lack of basic documentation, even where something can be achieved in a couple of days.”

Is that observation true for Chadic languages, too? Which are the most severely endangered Chadic languages?


UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger

The following information from the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage website is relevant for most of the Chadic languages we are dealing with:

Half of the 6,700 languages spoken today are in danger of disappearing before the century ends, a process that can be slowed only if urgent action is taken by governments and speaker communities.

The UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, freely available, aims to provide speaker communities, policy-makers and the general public with state-of-the-art knowledge, continually updated by a growing network of experts and community members.

The online edition of the Atlas includes all of the information in the print edition (soon to be released) and much more.

More information in English, French and Spanish can be found here:

Interview with Zygmunt Frajzyngier

At the website of the University of Colorado at Boulder, there is a news release (date: January 31st 2008) about the efforts of our colleague Zygmunt Frajzyngier and other CU-Boulder linguists to record endangered — Chadic and other — languages before they disappear:

Language is the most complex intellectual product of any community,” said Professor Zygmunt Frajzyngier, chair of the CU-Boulder linguistics department. “It is a product of evolution lasting many thousands of years.” (…) A complete description of any language consists of the discovery of all forms and functions coded in the language. This goal hasn’t been met yet for any language, including the best-described languages such as English, Russian, German and French,” said Frajzyngier, who has written several books on endangered African languages, including the recently published “A Grammar of Gidar.”

International Year of Languages

Most of you probably know that the UN have declared 2008 the “International Year of Languages”. In a message by Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, we can read the following:

The Organization is fully aware of the crucial importance of languages when seen against the many challenges that humanity will have to face over the next few decades. Languages are indeed essential to the identity of groups and individuals and to their peaceful coexistence. They constitute a strategic factor of progress towards sustainable development and a harmonious relationship between the global and the local context. (…)

However, within the space of a few generations, more than 50% of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world may disappear. Less than a quarter of those languages are currently used in schools and in cyberspace, and most are used only sporadically. Thousands of languages — though mastered by those populations for whom it is the daily means of expression — are absent from education systems, the media, publishing and the public domain in general. (…)

UNESCO therefore invites governments, United Nations organizations, civil society organizations, educational institutions, professional associations and all other stakeholders to increase their own activities to foster respect for, and the promotion and protection of all languages, particularly endangered languages, in all individual and collective contexts. (…) Our common goal is to ensure that the importance of linguistic diversity and multilingualism in educational, administrative and legal systems, cultural expressions and the media, cyberspace and trade, is recognized at the national, regional and international levels.

This message by the Director-General of UNESCO is also available in other languages, including:

You can learn more about the “International Year of Languages” on the internet portal of UNESCO and on the Eurolang website.

My question to all you Chadicists: What is our role in the preservation of linguistic diversity? What can we do to protect endangered languages — which includes most of the Chadic languages? Is teaching and research enough? What else should we do? Are you planning any activities connected to the “International Year of Languages” ?

You can use the comment function to share any ideas you have on this topic.

Extinct and endangered Chadic languages

Many Chadic languages are known to be endangered and some are already extinct. The following is a comparison of the information given on the status of endangerment of Chadic languages in three different online publications.

1. In the online version of the 15th edition of the Ethnologue, seven Chadic languages are listed as “nearly extinct“. According to the Ethnologue,

They are classified in this way when “only a few elderly speakers are still living.” The entries below give just the known population information. Click on “More information” to see the full entry for the language.

2. In Roger Blench’s 2003 reference list “The Chadic Languages“, the number is even higher. He makes a distinction between severely endangered Chadic languages and Chadic languages of questionable status.

Chadic languages severely endangered:

  • Baldamu
  • Bure
  • Holma
  • Jilbe
  • Mabire
  • Miltu
  • Musunye
  • Torom

Chadic languages of questionable status:

  • Buso
  • Kujarge
  • Laal
  • Luri

Blench also lists four Chadic languages known to be extinct:

  • Auyokanci
  • Muskum
  • Shira
  • Teshena

3. In the Atlas on endangered languages produced by UNESCO, the following languages are listed as endangered:

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