It has recently been reported that the Kusunda language from Nepal is on the edge of extinction.
There is only one remaining fluent speaker of Kusunda, 75 year old Gyani Sen from Western Nepal.
A few years ago there were two other fluent speakers, Puni Thakuri who has since died, and Gyani Sen’s daughter who has left the country in search of work.
Gyani Sen believes that Kusunda will now die with her.
Of the 100 Kusunda tribes people remaining, none of them speak more than a few words of Kusunda, meaning that they are unable to keep the language from extinction.
We have to be careful not to confuse extinct and dead languages. An extinct language is one which no longer has any speakers, whereas a dead language is one which remains in use for scientific, legal or religious functions – for example, Latin.
Unfortunately, the only option for Kusunda is extinction, because after Gyani Sen, there will be no living speakers, and as it is a tribal language it is unlikely that it will be used for other functions.
Kusunda is a language isolate, as it is not related to any common language in the world. Linguists are desperate to preserve it and are eagerly trying to learn as much as they can from Gyani Sen, but the origins of Kusunda are baffling them. Kusunda is not phonologically, morphologically, syntactically or lexically related to any other language in the world so they are puzzled about where it all began. With lack of knowledge about the origin and only one living teacher, it is unlikely that linguists will have time to revive the language.
Kusunda is not alone in the list of languages which are in danger of disappearing. The BBC recently reported that half of the world’s 7000 are in danger. With development and globalisation pushing us forward, there only seems to be room for dominant languages in the commercial world.
However, there are three steps we can take towards protecting and rescue endangered ones:
1. Document the language in terms of grammar, lexicon and speaking traditions.
2. Revitalise: Attempt to increase the number of speakers of the language.
3. Maintain: Support languages to protect them from extinction.
How important do you think it is to preserve minority languages, and how can we preserve them? Please let us know your thoughts via the comment box below.