The Cultural Consequences of Language Extinction

It is widely acknowledged that biodiversity is disappearing in the globe of the twenty-first century. Most people are unaware, nevertheless, that even cultural diversity in terms of language is disappearing. More people are finding it more convenient to communicate in a common language as a result of globalization. Because of this, other languages are rapidly disappearing as the popularity of languages like English rises. An estimated thirty languages are predicted to disappear per year. This essay investigates any potential cultural effects of the tendency. If the trend is to continue as it is, the estimates thereby translate into a loss of about 3000 languages by the end of the century. In 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched an awareness campaign regarding the alarming loss of languages with the slogan “languages matter”. However, even with the campaign, many people are still blind to this phenomenon. UNESCO’s take on the issue was that recognition of diverse language led to the recognition of diverse culture; a crucial undertaking in the promotion of human rights universality (Moseley 19). Thereby, by allowing certain languages to die out, protection of human rights will not be effectively exercised.

Loss of language may moreover translate into the loss of cultural meaning among the people experiencing the language extinction. This is because the spiritual, intellectual and cultural life of a community is carried through their language. Such components include mythologies, prayers, poetry, ceremonies, vocabulary, greetings, humor, conversation styles, emotions, and behavior (Dorian 66). Extinction of languages does not, however, take all these away. Instead, it refashions the content into the dominant language. However, in the process of translation, the difference in wording styles, grammar structure, and sounds will ultimately be lost. In the process thereby, a significant portion of meaning is lost, so to say, in translation.

Extinction of languages may be detrimental to the cultural identity of the afflicted communities. Moreover, their values may moreover be made obsolete and their social cohesion threatened. Moreover, other effects of language obsolescence may be political. For example, in countries where marginalized or indigenous cultures are identified through their language, loss of the language may diminish their standing as a culture. This will thereby translate into a situation where any unique collective rights that such previously enjoyed will be nullified as politically illegitimate. Languages may moreover carry the community’s collective knowledge on scientific phenomena and topics such as philosophy, medicine, and botany (Dorian 65). Thereby, loss in the language may translate into the loss in the knowledge. However, not all consequences of language loss are bleak. This is because the loss of the less used languages leads to the adoption of dominant languages (Hill 75). This, in turn, has the cultural effect of increasing cohesion among formerly disparate communities. With increased global cohesion moreover, issues such as world peace and eradication of discrimination on diversity bases will, on the other hand, be achieved.


The trend in obsolescence of language is at an all-time high with an expected loss of about 3000 at the turn of the century. This has the cultural effects of loss of cultural diversity. Moreover, meanings lost in the process of language extinction lead to loss of cultural identities and overall cultural cohesion among afflicted communities. The presence of scientific knowledge in these languages moreover translates into the loss of potential contribution to science. Therefore, the extinction of languages can be equated to the extinction of part of humanity’s collective cultural identity.

Works Cited

Dorian, Nancy C. Investigating obsolescence: Studies in language contraction and death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Hill, Jane. “Language death, language contact and language evolution.” Approaches to languages: anthropological issues (1978): 75.

Moseley, Christopher. ” Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.” 2010.

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