Pakistan is a multi-ethnic country having multiple ethnicities speaking more or less 78 languages across its length and breadth. Ethnologue is a web-based research organisation which conducts research on the world’s 7,000 languages, puts the number of spoken languages in Pakistan at 78.
Of these, the web reveals, 69 languages are indigenous, nine are non-indigenous, four are institutional, 24 are developing, 30 are vigorous, 16 are in trouble, and four are dying.
With the number of languages at a whirling downturn, the term ‘vanishing voices’ comes into play, referring to the phenomenon of endangered or dying languages around the world. The data shared by Ethnologue apart, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), about 40 per cent of the 7,000 languages spoken across the world are or close to disappearing, with one language disappearing every two weeks.
Moving forward, ranging from socio- economic factors to a complex web of issues, the reasons contributing to the phenomenon of disappearing languages are aplenty. To quote a few, globalisation and urbanisation appear to be the dominated ones that are leading powerful languages to outsmart and outlast the others. Moreover, policies of assimilation, cultural suppression by governments, migration and lack of interest in literature by young and energetic youth are contributing to the marginalisation of languages, especially those spoken by the minority communities.
To save languages from vanishing, documentation — involving recording of language in any format, such as audios, videos and text — is an essential tool to preserve the endangered languages. Along with adopting this measure, developing language learning programmes and teaching resources is integral to helping individuals use such languages.
In this regard, working with the local community is crucial which will ensure that the language is being preserved and promoted. This can involve supporting cultural activities, events and festivals, and encouraging language use among the community. Consequently, all the endangered languages can be turned away from falling off the cliff of extinction by adopting simple yet effective measures.