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Seventy-five-year-old Gyani Maiyi Sen is the only native fluent speaker of Kusunda in the world, and linguists are rushing to record the unique language. Around the globe languages are dying rapidly as more and more people are learning global languages instead of maintaining their native tongues. Kusunda, a unique language of Nepal, is another of these dying languages.

Linguists, like biologists, have a scale to measure how endangered a language is. A language is considered “safe” if it will be spoken by children in 100 years. A language is classified as “endangered” when it is unlikely that children will speak it in 100 years. However, Kusunda is more vulnerable than that. It is technically a “moribund” language, which means that no children are currently learning it. When the last native speakers die, a language officially becomes extinct.

Kusunda is unique not only because it is moribund, but it is also a language isolate. Like Basque, Kusunda is not related to any other spoken language. Linguists are rushing to Nepal to record Sen speaking and describing Kusunda. The language does not have an alphabet, though, which makes this task difficult. Some linguists have speculated that Kusunda may be related to Indo-Pacific languages spoken in the Pacific Islands, but there is no definitive correlation.

Recently linguists determined that an endangered language spoken in Siberia is related to languages spoken by Native American groups. Learn its full history here.

Do you think languages should be recorded and saved?

235 Comments

  1. Semiotics | Visual Communication -  February 16, 2014 - 7:04 pm

    [...] I find intriguing is how people study a dying language.  How do people study a culture?  In >this< reading, it’s interesting to see that a language is considered “safe” only [...]

    Reply
  2. | GM Voices -  September 3, 2013 - 8:29 am

    [...] Languages all around the globe are dying rapidly as more and more people are embracing globalization and learning global languages instead of maintaining their native tongues.  Keeping languages alive becomes like “survival of the fittest;” the more commonly-spoken languages dominate the less spoken, eventually causing language extinction. [...]

    Reply
  3. Amit Deb Biswas -  August 8, 2012 - 4:04 am

    SURE, THE LANGUAGE SHOULD BE SAVED…. I FEAR , ONE DAY IT COULD BE HAPPEN WITH MY BENGALI LANGUAGE!!! LONG LIVE BENGALI / BANGLA…. :)

    Reply
  4. OwlTarsier -  July 29, 2012 - 1:24 pm

    Wait – the article only said that the language didn’t have an ALPHABET. Does this mean that is has characters meant for full words, or no characters at all?

    Reply
  5. OwlTarsier -  July 29, 2012 - 1:12 pm

    @jenny: I think she might be bilingual, or else she wouldn’t be able to teach us anything. That’s my guess, any others?

    Reply
  6. OwlTarsier -  July 29, 2012 - 12:57 pm

    Wow…that’s sad. Of course I would record the language! Knowledge is precious, and this dying language is priceless. Maybe if more people knew this language, we could nurse it back to health and let it flourish again. Where would it be spoken? I don’t know. But maybe it will be useful one day, when we come across some ancient manuscript in that language. Unfortunately, this is impossible, as the language has no alphabet. Oh, well. Nous verrons ce que nous verrons.

    Reply
  7. me -  July 24, 2012 - 3:27 pm

    Can that lady speak other languages or just that one?
    I think that languages should be recorded.

    Reply
  8. HK -  July 21, 2012 - 12:20 pm

    If she’s the only person left able to speak this language how will they know what she is telling them!?!?!?

    Reply
  9. fabgirl -  July 2, 2012 - 12:57 pm

    In response to whoever was wondering how Kusunda could be related to a language in the West Indies because it was so far away, language relations have nothing to do with location. See, there are these things called language families. English, Spanish, French, Greek, Italian, and many other languages
    are part of the Indo-European family. There are many other language families
    too, like the Sino-Tibetan, which includes Mandarin, Thai, and Egyptian.

    Reply
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