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Indigenous language

An indigenous language or autochthonous language is a language that is native to a region and spoken by indigenous people, often reduced to the status of a minority language. This language would be from a linguistically distinct community that has been settled in the area for many generations. Indigenous languages are not necessarily national languages, and the reverse is also true.

Many indigenous peoples worldwide have stopped passing on their ancestral languages to the next generation, and have instead adopted the majority language as part of their acculturation into the majority culture. Recognizing their vulnerability, the United Nations proclaimed 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages, "to draw attention to the critical loss of indigenous languages and the urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote indigenous languages."

Many indigenous languages are disappearing as there are no longer any young people left to speak those languages, so their remaining speakers are dying out. In North America, since 1600 at least 52 Native American languages have disappeared. Globally, there may be more than 7,000 languages that exist in the world today, though many of them have not been recorded because they belong to tribes in rural areas of the world or are not easily accessible. It is estimated that 6,809 "living" languages exist in the world today, but 90% of them are spoken by fewer than 100,000 people. Some languages are very close to disappearing.

Forty six languages are known to have just one native speaker while 357 languages have fewer than 50 speakers. Rare languages are more likely to show evidence of decline than more common ones.

Of those languages, this means that roughly 6,100 languages are facing a risk of extinction.

Oklahoma provides the backdrop for an example of language loss in the developed world. It boasts the highest density of indigenous languages in the United States. This includes languages originally spoken in the region, as well as those of Native American tribes from other areas that were forcibly relocated onto reservations there. The U.S. government drove the Yuchi from Tennessee to Oklahoma in the early 19th century. Until the early 20th century, most Yuchi tribe members spoke the language fluently. Then, government boarding schools severely punished American Indian students who were overheard speaking their own language. To avoid beatings and other punishments, Yuchi, and other Indian children abandoned their native languages in favor of English.


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