Statue of language.

15 World Languages That Are Going Extinct

With around 5,000 to 6,000 languages spoken in the world at present, it’s a sad fact that some of those languages are at risk of going extinct, either due to cultural adaptations, natives dying out, or the results of colonization. Experts believe that about a century from now, the number of languages enduring in our world will drop to the low thousands or even hundreds.

With so many fascinating dialects and vernaculars spoken by a rainbow of cultures around the world, it’s worth learning about those that are endangered, as a way to both raise awareness and appreciate the beautiful diversity of the human ability to communicate.

Irish Gaelic

Irish Gaelic sign.
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While commonly thought to be comprised only of English speakers, the Irish possess an indigenous language as well. Irish Gaelic continues to be spoken by about 40,000 native people, mainly in the Gaeltacht communities. Nowadays, it is on the list of endangered languages despite government efforts to preserve it by teaching it to children in local schools. Unfortunately, these attempts at maintaining the language have largely failed.

Apiaka

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The language of Apiaka, once widely spoken by the indigenous people of Mato Grosso, Brazil, currently boasts only one living speaker remaining in the entire world. This unique language was unfortunately replaced by the Portuguese taking over this region, with the Apiaka tribe slipping farther away from their own language. There have been many attempts to revive the Apiaka language, especially with a textbook initiative called “The Apiaka Word.”

Tlicho (Dogrib)

Map of northwest territories Canada.
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Tlicho is a language spoken by the indigenous Tlicho tribe (also known as Dogrib) located in the Northwest Territories of Canada. These people belong to the Dene-Athapaskan language family, one of the 11 official languages recognized by Canada. As of the 2006 Canadian Census, only about 2,983 people still live in the region, with an estimated 1,695 people still speaking the native language. Sadly, these statistics most likely mean that by 2024 a great number of those people have most likely died, making it a language dangerously close to extinction. 

Gagauz (Bessarabia)

Orthodox church in Moldova.
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Gaguaz (also known as Bessarabia) is a Turkic tongue spoken by small communities of natives in Eastern Europe, especially concentrated around the Republic of Moldova but also spreading into areas such as Ukraine, Bulgaria, and even small pockets of Romania and Serbia. At present, there are an estimated 115,000 speakers in existence, but Gaguaz is at extreme risk of being lost to the world because it is no longer being taught to children in schools and is gradually declining amongst families as well.

Hawaiian

Island surrounded by turquoise water.
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During the reign of the Kingdom of Hawaii, the literacy rate of Hawaiian natives was known to be 90% or more. Later, after the monarchy was abolished, the provisional government all but banned natives from speaking Hawaiian, causing it to slowly disappear and fade from existence. In 1986, the Hawaii State Legislature amended the law banning the native Hawaiian language, and there are now many preservation methods underway to help natives relearn their mother tongue, including incorporating it back into schools. As of 2015, a survey showed that around 18,000 Hawaiians speak their language. This is a positive uptick, but experts still rank the Hawaiian language as “critically endangered.”

Ts’ixa

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Spoken in Botswana, Ts’ixa (also known as Ts’exa) is an indigenous language similar to another language in the region called Shua. However, Ts’ixa is the more threatened of the two at risk of going extinct. This South African dialect is mostly isolated to the village of Mababe and is currently spoken by fewer than 200 natives of Botswana. It is used mainly by older adults in present times, as children primarily learn and speak Setswana or English as their native tongue.

Ume Saami

Saami man with reindeer.
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Ume Saami is a part of the Fenno-Ugrian family of languages in the Nordic region of the world. Still spoken by about 25,000 to 25,000 older generations today, the Saami tongue grows closer and closer to extinction with each passing year as native speakers die out. Linguistic experts believe it will not last another century. The language exists in the north of Finland, Sweden, and Norway, as well as on the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Around 10 Sami languages exist in the Nordics, but only 6 have a written alphabet. 

Potawatomi

Map of Potawatomi nation.
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While the Potawatomi are a relatively well-known North American indigenous tribe, their language is sadly well on its way to extinction. At present, there are only 10 or fewer fluent native speakers of Potawatami who are nearing 70 years of age or older. The tongue is notoriously difficult for new speakers to learn as it contains a complex cornucopia of verbs, long words, and tricky sounds. Fortunately, some intermediate Potawatomi speakers continue to try to learn and teach the language. The tribes also launched language programs available to anyone wanting to learn, as a way to preserve the tongue.

Ainu (Hokkaido)

Map of Hokkaido on world map.
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The millennia-old indigenous Ainu language, originating in the northern Hokkaido Islands of Japan, is truly unique, as linguistic experts have been unable to link it with any other language family. However, it is now critically endangered due to 19th-century colonization, assimilation of Japanese culture, and a ban on native traditions. While it has been partially resuscitated since the 1980s, the Ainu language currently only has about 10 native speakers remaining in the region, all elderly. 

Chemehuevi

Hot air balloon over lake havasu.
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Often called “Colorado River Numic,” the Chemehuevi language is a western vernacular spoken by only about two dozen people on the Colorado River Indian Reservation and in the neighboring Chemehuevi Reservation in California. Originating in the Mojave Desert region of what is now the southwestern part of the United States, tribal members and language activists today work to revive and preserve this indigenous language.

Yarawi

Map of Papua New Guinea.
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As one of the most endangered languages of the already dying out linguistic family of Papua, Yarawi is chiefly spoken in the Morobe Province. This language is thought to originate in the Binanderean family of the Trans-New Guinea phylum of languages. Yarawi is another vernacular that is currently only fluently spoken by one native speaker. The more popular language of Binandere has taken over, resulting in Yarawi being essentially wiped from memory.

Okanagan-Colville

Map of British Columbia Canada.
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Okanagan-Colville is an increasingly rare language, principally spoken by the indigenous groups of British Columbia, Canada. This Native American language is also known as Nsyilxcən, and only an estimated 150 natives fluently speak it to this day. This means Okanagan-Colville is severely at risk of dying out. However, The Catalogue of Endangered Languages (ELCat) has supervised the preservation of the language through various educational resources.

Rikbaktsa

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Mainly spoken in the indigenous rainforest territories of Brazil and Bolivia, Rikbaktsa is a language slowly dying out due to the near eradication of those who speak it. About 75% of the native population died from disease epidemics brought to the area by Jesuit missionaries. This tongue is also colloquially known as “Orelhas de Pau” (referring to the tribal tradition of wearing wooden plugs in their ears) or “Canoeiros” (referring to the natives’ use of canoes). Nowadays, the Rikbaktsa people are bilingual, having adopted Portuguese, so it is typically only the older generations who speak the native tongue.

Krymchak

Tombstone in Krymchak.
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Krymchak is comprised of primarily Jewish immigrant speakers and the alphabet of this language is a Hebrew derivative, however, the writing of Krymchak has now largely died out, leaving it almost exclusively an oral tongue. Spoken by the people of Crimea, a peninsula in Ukraine, Krymchak (also known as Judeo-Crimean Tatar) is a relatively unknown language currently at risk of extinction. The language is thought to be spoken by only about 200 Ukrainian natives at present, all mostly born during or prior to 1930. 

Yagan

Chile on world map.
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Yagan, an indigenous language of Chile that is home to the world's southernmost human population, has recently completely died out as of 2022. It is the latest language in the world to go natively extinct. The tongue was officially fluently spoken by only one native person in the world until she devastatingly passed away in 2022, the language fading away with her. There are numerous other non-native speakers of Yagan working to revive the language at present, but they are not fluent speakers. 

Author: Jorie Logan

Title: Writer

Expertise: Travel, Wellness, Advocacy

Jorie Logan is a copywriter, brand strategist, and traveler with extensive solo travel experience. She's passionate about sharing stories that empower women to explore their world and discover their authentic joyful selves.