An ancient language from the Andaman Islands became extinct last week with the death of its last speaker, and has drawn global attention to the importance of preserving the thousands of the world’s languages in danger of disappearance.
‘Boa Sr’ was the last fluent speaker of the Bo language, one of the world’s oldest dialects thought to have been spoken by the Bo tribe for up to 65,000 years. She was the oldest surviving member of the Bo, an ancient, indigenous people with a family tree that traces its history to one of the oldest human cultures on earth.
“The significance is immense,” said Anvita Abbi, a linguistics professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, who spent five years studying Boa’s way of life and language. “Language is not just a way of communicating. It is a viewfinder to an ancient world. Language is a representation of society and the pattern of human migration.”
The death of the 85 year old woman has drawn global attention to the plight of endangered languages. Of the estimated six or seven thousand languages that are spoken in the world, around half of them are critically endangered, and are vanishing at a rate of one every few weeks.
“The vast majority of the worlds languages are in some sense endangered,” explained Nicholas Ostler, Chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages which works to protect and promote threatened languages. “Half the world’s languages have populations smaller than the size of a small village.”
“The further back you go in language history the more variety you find, and variety is nothing other than diversity. As modern biology recognizes, diversity is very closely related to long term survival potential of stocks and species.”
“All over over the world we have languages that have something to tell us. We don’t know what it is, but we don’t want to lose it”.
For More information: The Foundation for Endangered Languages