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Millennium briefing: the death of language

Half of the world's languages are likely to die in the next century. Unless we do something to reverse this trend, we will lose the cultural and linguistic diversity which is so essential to human development

By David Crystal   November 1999

A language dies only when the last person who speaks it dies. One day it is there; the next, it is gone. Here is how it happens. In late 1995, a linguist, Bruce Connell, was doing some field work in the Mambila region of Cameroon. He found a language called Kasabe, which no westerner had studied before. It had just one speaker left, a man called Bogon. Connell had no time on that visit to find out much about the language, so he decided to return to Cameroon a year later. He arrived in mid-November, only to learn that Bogon…

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