February 21, 2018 | Xing Brew
Endangered Languages

As a result of globalization and other social and political forces, languages are dying all around the world. Around 400 languages have gone extinct over the last century alone and it is estimated that half of the world’s remaining 6,500 languages will disappear by the end of this century (though some linguists put that figure as high as 90%).

Some argue that language loss is a fact of life on an ever-evolving planet. However, as more and more languages become endangered and ultimately extinct, so too do cultures, traditions, stories, unique ways thinking and expression, and opportunities. Languages are conduits of tangible and intangible human heritage.

In an effort to promote linguistic diversity and mother-tongue-based education around the world, UNESCO created International Mother Language Day. This day has been observed every year on February 21st since 2000 to highlight the integral role that linguistic diversity and multilingualism have in fostering sustainable development.

Sometimes the best way to understand the gravity of an issue is through data visualization. Hence, in spirit of International Mother Language Day, I've created an interactive map showing endangered and extinct languages in North America to illustrate the extent of the language loss across the continent. The code used to create the map is included below.

Click on a point to see the language and number of speakers left.

UNESCO's classification system to show just how 'in trouble' the language is:

  • Vulnerable - most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home)
  • Definitely endangered - children no longer learn the language as a 'mother tongue' in the home Severely endangered - language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves
  • Critically endangered - the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently
  • Extinct - there are no speakers left

Creating a map of endangered/extinct languages using R/Leaflet

First, download the data from the link at the bottom of this article. Copy and paste the code below in your R script (installing any necessary packages and adjusting the working directory and file name). You can select which country/countries you would like to visualize the data for by inserting the respective country codes in line 28.

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