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Anaheim 99 Sunday, 24 January, 1999, 20:17 GMT
Goodbye mother tongue
Matt McGrath
From the BBC's Matt McGrath in Anaheim

AAAS Expo
As many as 40% of the world's languages could disappear by 2100. Only the elderly will remember the more traditional ways of speaking as younger generations around the globe tune in to a more common way of talking.

This vision of the future was presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science expo by Dr Peter Ladefoged, an expert on linguistics. He said globalisation would inevitably mean some languages would become extinct.

"There are probably about 7,000 in the world today and I'd guess that in about 100 year's time there may be only about 3,000 left," he told the BBC."

Dr Ladefoged laid the blame for this disappearing culture on the media. "It's the economic system as well, the schools, the government, but clearly the media has a large responsibility for the fact that so many people are no longer speaking their native tongues ... [and ] have dropped them in favour of the more worldwide languages."

Cultural identity

The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) academic said the loss of so many languages should concern us. For many peoples, the extinction of traditional ways of speaking would also signal an end to their cultural identity, he said.

"Your language might well be your soul - it may have some religious value to you. And as one person put it to me, 'we lose contact with our ancestors'".

The linguistics expert said Europe was the one part of the world most likely to hang on to its current collection of languages - not least because most of the more obscure ways of speaking had already gone.

But Dr Ladefoged said the changes taking place would not result in a single, world language. "I suspect the world will never quite get to the stage where people are all homogenised enough to want to speak one language.

They will still want to distinguish themselves from one another, and that's one of the main reasons why ... people from different parts of England, Scotland or Wales have different accents. They want to say, 'hey, I'm proud to come from Wales, or from wherever they come from."

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Peter Ladefoged: We are not heading for a single, world language
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