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World Losing a Language Every Two Weeks, Linguists Tell VOA

Half of today's 7,000 languages projected to disappear by the year 2100

Washington, D.C., June 10, 2009 – Linguists told a Voice of America (VOA) audience the world is losing a language approximately every two weeks, with half of today’s 7,000 languages projected to disappear by the year 2100. <!-- IMAGE -->

“The loss of a single language is really a loss for all of us. It’s not just a loss for the speakers,” said Susan Penfield, program director for the National Science Foundation’s Documenting Endangered Language Program.

Penfield, who has worked extensively on the preservation of Native American languages, stressed the importance of language diversity and its legacy to all of humankind. “You don’t know how much you’ll miss a language until it’s gone,” she said.

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Besides Penfield, the VOA panel, Endangered Languages: Saving Voices Before They Are Lost ( featured linguistics experts G. Tucker Childs of Portland, Ore., State University and Hayib N. Sosseh of Northern Virginia Community College. VOA broadcaster Bart Childs also participated in the presentation.

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G. Tucker Childs discussed his life’s work documenting dying languages in Western Africa, including Krim and Bom. The key to maintaining any linguistic heritage is to make sure that young people speak the language regularly, he said.

Bart Childs recently travelled to Sierra Leone and Guinea to file video reports featuring the endangered languages Krim, Bom, and Mani, whose deaths appear imminent. See his reports at

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Sosseh, who has written courses in endangered languages such as Mandinka and his native language, Wolof, discussed the many distinct dialects that have evolved from the major languages of Africa.

The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. Government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts approximately 1,500 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 134 million people. Programs are produced in 45 languages.

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