In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Endangered Languages

  • Introduction
  • Surveys
  • Consequences
  • Loss of Knowledge Systems and Knowledge Gained in Language Documentation
  • Linguistic Diversity and Biodiversity
  • Archives and Archiving

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Linguistics Endangered Languages
Chris Rogers, Lyle Campbell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0013


Endangered languages are one of the highest priorities in linguistics in the early 21st century and one of the most urgent problems facing humanity, posing scientific, practical, and moral challenges of immense proportions. This is because the approximately 6,800 languages of the world are becoming extinct at an alarmingly accelerated rate. Estimates are that by the end of this century, in the worst-case scenario 90 percent of all languages will be doomed, and in the best-case scenario 50 percent will be gone (see Linguistic Audience). Language loss represents an unspeakable loss of information invaluable to humanity. Urgent attention to obtaining accurate information about endangered languages is needed to prevent the disappearance of so much knowledge and to help linguistics address its goals of understanding the full range of what is possible in human language. The study of endangered languages has an old history; for example, language change and loss were a motivation for Pāṇini’s 4th-century BCE grammar of Sanskrit. Concern for endangered languages was a major motivation in the establishment of the Americanist linguistic tradition, beginning with Franz Boas and continuing with Edward Sapir, Leonard Bloomfield, and many others. In the early 21st century, linguists engaged in the study of endangered languages are concerned with the documentation, description, conservation, and revitalization of threatened languages all over the world. The dire consequences of the accelerated loss of languages were forcefully drawn to linguists’ attention in the 1990s by Michael Krauss and others, and intense interest in the endangered languages of the world has ensued, with many conferences, funding agencies, journals, websites, and numerous and varied publications now in existence.

Introductory Works and Textbooks

There are introductory sources on endangered languages, but few intended specifically as textbooks. This is probably because of the relatively recent recognition of the importance of endangered languages and their documentation. This section is divided into two subsections, one focused on introductory material aimed at nonspecialists and the other focused on introductory material intended primarily for linguists.

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