Tongues & Causes: Role of Languages in Cultural Heritage

There is an estimated 6,000 languages spoken around the globe according to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Some of these are actively being used, some are data-deficient, and some are endangered and, sadly, extinct. In fact, almost 43% or about 2,343 languages are not in the safe list composed of 75% endangered and 25% vulnerable.

In 2010, UNESCO listed 15 endangered languages from the Philippines, including 4 that has already come to its extinction—Dicamay Agta and Arta of Northern Luzon, Katabaga of CALABARZON, and Ata of Negros Island. Several factors challenge our languages to its end. Notable on the list is globalization and the minority of the speakers’ population.

Is Globalization to blame?

Economic globalization and modernization evidently affect our native languages as time goes by. This mimicking of the culture of other powerful countries indirectly hits our own. The same effects happen with the diminishing number of native speakers of the supposed lingua franca for there are those who teach their children a completely different language as the mother tongue. Delving deep into the problem, these increasing numbers did not just bring an end to one group’s way of communication, but also a degree of their identity.

Cultural heritage

Languages, along with traditions and songs, are considered intangible cultural heritage. However, whether it is tangible or not, cultural heritage is vital in creating and maintaining one’s sense of identity, belonging, and citizenship values. It needs to be maintained so that we can bestow it to future generations. With the currently declining situation, the survival of our cultural heritage is being threatened in the coming decades.

For instance, Andre Cramblit narrated in his article the importance of their native language to their tribe—the Karuk tribe of California. He stated that their native language is the basis of their culture, where their prayers, rituals, and other ceremonies would not be completed with its spiritual significance if the language could not be understood completely. In this case, the number of members fluent within a native tongue was just 11. Here is where problems start trickling in.

If these remaining fluent speakers of the tribe continuously decrease without passing down their language and, consequently their knowledge, to the younger ones, it’s most likely that the language will come to an end, deleting its existence in history. Along with the death of the language, is the inevitable death of traditions, celebrations, prayers, and other parts of that culture for these things are interconnected. The loss of one’s cultural heritage, especially for the succeeding generations, may eventually result in an identity crisis.

Aside from this, there might actually be other languages and cultural heritage that became extinct due to natural and man-made circumstances. In cases like these, its people should take charge of maintaining and preserving such important things for the next generations. The simplest thing people can do to preserve it is to, simply, use it. Continue communicating in the language, be it in spoken or written form. In this way, we can raise awareness about its existence not just within the area it is spoken but hopefully even in areas where it is not. As Ian Donelly said in the movie Arrival, “Language is the foundation of civilization. It is a glue that holds people together.”