Language survival, some harsh truths

The definition of a dying language is not a complicated matter. It is not even a semi-complicated matter. But it is certainly quite a sensitive matter for many middle-class Africans living in the era of globalisation and neo-colonialism. It is threatening what many consider their "African identity" so intimately there appears to be no escape.

Many of these Africans, children of former colonies, find themselves living in constant fear that their native tongue - whether it is spoken by millions of people or not - is mere decades away from extinction. They look at their children, nieces, nephews, siblings rambling away in rapid (insert colonial language) and sigh theatrically while staring into the distance outside their windows.If it seems as if I'm being melodramatic; that is because I am trying to paint a picture of exactly what it is I imagine when I hear people complain about the "rapid decline" of (insert Bantu language).Between you and me, I often find myself gripped by a cynicism so sharp, it forces me to burst out in laughter. It may appear that I am mocking this inherent fear of loss of cultural identity (for I suspect that this is the real issue here) that comes with rapid class ascent, but I'm merely trying to make a point.Before I get to it, I'd like to give you some technical definitions of a dying language. An "endangered language" - as the linguists say - is a language whose speakers are rapidly dying out or are shifting to speaking a new one altogether. A language is said to be "dead" if there is only one person that can speak it, and "extinct" when there are none.

According to Unesco, there are even several levels of language death - a language is "vulnerable" when children do not speak it outside of the home, "definitely endangered' when children do not speak it at all, "severely endangered" when it is only spoken by the oldest generation, and so on and so forth.These are the stages of language death. I bring this up because these definitions are supposed to do for you what they did for me: put things in perspective and force everyone to calm the (expletive) down. As long as your language has a considerable number of speakers that use it to communicate 99% of their thoughts, your language still has at least another century in it. As long as there are entire villages and communities where not a word of (insert colonial language) is spoken, your language is pretty safe.

Editor's Comment
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