Over 7,100 languages exist in the world, proving how diverse and beautiful the world is. While some of them are well-renowned by millions, endangered languages are also present, having only about 1,000 native speakers, with some even having less than 10.
Sadly, no matter how beautiful a language is, a vast number of these rare languages get threatened by colonization, economic growth, and social development, neglected, lost, and eventually, fade into oblivion. As such, it’s always exciting and worth it to explore the old languages no longer in use by many.
So, continue reading below and we’ve listed the languages only a few people currently speak, where they’re mainly spoken, and the people or communities behind them.
Njerep is a spoken language of a Nigerian ethnic group of the same name living in the Mambila village situated along the Nigeria-Cameroon border. Based on documentation released in 2000, only four people were using the language at home in the late 1990s, prompting anthropologists to tag it as extinct and have no chance of survival.
In its dying stages, Njerep has been used chiefly for keeping conversations secret, in songs, greetings, and jokes. It was said that the youth showed disdain or laughed whenever the elderly used the language, explaining why its speakers switched and favored other Mambila languages like Ba and Myop for casual conversation. Wajiri Bi, the last person who fluently speaks Njerep, died in 1998.
Spoken in Southwest Ethiopia, Ongota had only 10 remaining elderly fluent speakers as of 2007. It’s an Afro-Asiatic language used in the tiny agrarian village located on the west bank of the Weito River.
Ongota is also considered to be in its dying phase. Code-switching is already occurring between the language and Tsamai language, its closest competitor, with the latter being distinctly dominant.
While Ongota men married women from the Ts’amakko tribe, Ongota fathers no longer spoke or taught their kids the Ongota language. That is to prevent any detestation from the Ts’amakko tribe, who despise Ongotas as they don’t own cattle and their “hunting-gathering” way of life.
Sarsi, also referred to as Sarcee, is a native language spoken by the Tsuu T’ina tribe, living in a territory in north Calgary, Canada. Based on a census in 2011, only 170 individuals still speak the language in an estimated population of 1,982. What’s interesting about Sarsi is that it’s entirely oral, sans any evidence of a written version or system. Only elders speak the Sarsi language, but thankfully, younger people from the tribe are exerting efforts in embracing the language.
Chamicuro, also called Chamicolo and Chamicura, is one of Peru’s traditional languages. Yet, there are only about 10 to 20 known speakers of the language. It is spoken by the Chamicuro people living in a stream of the bigger Huallaga River in Pampa Hermosa, Peru. Children choose not to speak the language, preferring Spanish over the native one. Plus, little effort is also undertaken in preserving the language, making Chamicuro nearly extinct. Fortunately, previous speakers devised a written record of the language, giving it some chances to survive.
Another rare language, this time in Nepal is Dumi, spoken around Tap and Rava rivers in the country’s Khotang District. It is under the Kiranti family of the Tibeto-Burman languages and is called by different names, such as Hopupo Bro, Lsi Rai, Sotmali, and Ro’do Bo’. Current information shows that there are only 7 individuals speaking the language. Despite its rarity, written records of Dumi are available including a dictionary and other books that contain the syntax and grammar of the language.
Also called Pinchi or Pinche, Taushiro is a critically endangered language spoken mainly in Peru’s Loreto region, and around the Ahuaruna River tributary, Aucayacu River, and the Tigre River. The ethnic population speaking the language is isolated and is only believed to be composed of 20 individuals. To preserve the native language, linguists from the Peruvian government have partnered with Taushiro’s last known speaker is Amadeo Garcia Garcia in devising a database containing about 1,500 words, as well as three songs and 27 stories.
Tanema, also known as Tetawo, Tanima, or Tetau, is a language once spoken in a village situated on the island Vainikolo and province of Temotu of the Solomon Islands in the Pacific. As of 2012, only one person named Lainol Nalo speaks the language out of the 150 people living on the islands, making the Tanema language nearly extinct. Pijin (Pisin) and Teanu are now the popular languages in the area.
Lemerig is a language spoken in the tiny South Pacific Ocean nation of Vanuatu. It only has two fluent speakers, though it was once the most command language in the islands, specifically in Vanua Lava Island, province of Torba, and in the norTheastern coastal villages. It was a blend of four distinct dialects, which are all already extinct. Today, people in Vanuatu mostly speak Mwotlap or Vera’a, or both.
Pawnee is a native tribal language in the United States. It traces its origin in the Midwest, though its remaining 10 fluent speakers primarily live in north-central Oklahoma and around Nebraska, all of them are elderly.
Pawnee has eight vowels and nine consonants, with each word notably having 10 syllables. Vowels are spoken similarly to French, while consonants bear the same English pronunciation. The use of low and high tones is employed by the speakers to convey varying meanings.
Though there are native speakers left, their children favor using the language English as their mother tongue. To preserve the culture and language, the Pawnee people have been developing teaching materials since 2007.
Kawisha, also known as Kaixana, is an Arawakan language native to Brazil, spoken primarily in areas nestling around the Japura River. It was once widely used and popular, but only one individual has been documented speaking the language. The total number of Kawishana speakers is unknown. As of 2017, it’s not yet included in the UNESCO Atlas’ list of extinct languages.
Indonesia is an archipelago remarkably composed of 17,000 islands, including the islands of New Guinea, Java, and Borneo. With that, it’s also home to a fascinating array of spoken languages. One of the rarest is Liki, which is used in the Papua region, primarily by people residing on its offshore islands. Its origin is also diverse, developing from different languages like the Sarmi, Western Oceanic, Malayo-Polynesia, Central-Eastern, and Austronesian languages. Liki is nearly extinct today, having only 11 remaining adult speakers in 2005 in an ethnic population of around 320.
Chemehuevi is a Numic language under the Uto-Aztecan language family. It’s spoken in the Colorado River in California, the U.S. Midwest, southern areas of Nevada, Colorado, and the northern areas of Utah, Arizona, Ute, and Southern Paiute. As of 2008, there were only three remaining fluent speakers of the language. Siwavaats Junior College in California is attempting to revive the language through various programs. A 2,500 dictionary, field notes, and other extensive recordings are available.
Languages are a big part of a tradition, culture, and identity, and seeing them completely fade is a total loss to their respective communities. Fortunately, combined efforts from linguists, governments, and the communities themselves can prevent the demise of these languages, salvage whatever is left, and help these languages sprout again in future generations. Of course, we, ordinary people can take part as well by raising awareness and highlighting the value of embracing and cultivating these rare linguistic gems.