UNESCO’s list of endangered languages

There has been recent news that the last two speakers of Ayapaneco are not speaking to each other. Along with the article, The Guardian has endangered languages listed by UNESCO. UNESCO is the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO publishes an online and interactive edition of the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. There are six levels of endangerment, which are determined by nine factors in UNESCO’s Language Vitality and Endangerment framework. However, the most distinguishing factor is intergenerational transmission. With the information available, I set to find the endangered languages of Taiwan.

Due to the way the country is searched, information on Taiwan is listed under China. There are 23 languages in Taiwan that are considered endangered. The degrees of endangerment are:
safe – uninterrupted transmission, not included in the Atlas
vulnerable – spoken by most children
definitely endangered – children do not learn the language at home
severely endangered – generational divide between parents and grandparents
critically endangered – language is only known by the grandparents
extinct – no speakers

Taiwan has eight extinct languages: Babuza, Basay, Hoanya, Ketangalan, Kulun, Papora, Siraiya, and Taokas. There are six critically endangered languages: Kanakanabu, Kavalan, Nataoran, Pazeh, Saaroa, and Thao. There is one severely endangered language: Saisiyat. Taiwan also has nine vulnerable languages: Amis, Bunun, Paiwan, Pyuma, Rukai, Taroko, Tayal, Tsou, and Yami. As far as I know, all of these languages are indigenous languages of Taiwan.

The major languages of Taiwan are Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese Hokkien, and Hakka. These languages were brought to Taiwan as Han Chinese arrived during the 16th century. Modern Taiwanese history mostly focuses on the Nationalist government and the Republic of China. However, an important part of history was the plight of aboriginal populations during that time period. Assimilation of aboriginal populations has led to the endangerment of the aboriginal languages. Hopefully these languages can be maintained and preserved. As language diversity decreases, we lose the stories and voices of those populations.


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