Language Education Policy Studies
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Endangerment and Disappearance of Languages

Language in education policies are implicated in the disappearance of world languages, also named linguicide. Linguicism, a term coined by Skutnabb-Kangas (1984), refers to ideologies, structures, and practices that are used to legitimate, create, regulate, and reproduce an unequal division of power and resources (both concrete and abstract) between groups that are defined on the basis of language.


Language disappearance or linguicide is predominantly occurring with Indigenous languages. Currently, depending on the source and method of counting languages, from half to 90% of languages are endangered, mostly Indigenous. Linguicide also occurs with immigrant groups in particularly Western Europe and the United States where a similar process occurs, although since most languages have an outside source of speakers, the result is language shift rather than disappearance or Linguicide.  Even “English is destined to die, as any other language, over time, because communication is an ever-changing phenomenon” (Tochon, 2009).


Linguists’ work includes the study of the evolution and even disappearance of many languages due to hybrid and socially complex practices. However, their work could contribute to language in education policies that support the revitalization, protection, and maintenance of these languages.

Many sociolinguistics do not see the urgency, and do not believe in the protection of languages because of the debates on the nature of language (See Defining Language)- is language a fluid construct that evolves, or a static, bound system? However, the binary is not necessary. The disagreement is over the use of terms such as ‘language death’ or ‘killer’ language, charged of being emotional or angry, which all center on agency. The claim is that there is also agency from below with resistance. Yet the power element is difficult to explain away (agency of nations and institutions vs. agency of individuals).


The biocultural link shows the correlation between linguistic and biodiversity, in addition to a multitude of studies that show the benefits to human dignity, educational achievement, and identity formation. These studies should be sufficient arguments to favor language in education policies that will support the preservation of endangered languages. (See Language Protection Questions.)

VIDEOS (Wes Studi, honorary board member of ILINative, on the Urgency) Endangered Languages Project. UK Conference. 


Cameron, D. (2007). Chapter 13: Language endangerment and verbal hygiene: History, morality and politics.  In A. Duchêne & M. Heller, (Eds.), Discourses of endangerment (pp.268-285). London and New York: Continuum.


Duchene, A., & Heller, M. H. (2006). Discourses of Endangerment: Ideology and Interest in the Defence of Languages. London: Continuum. (argue against notions of language in any kind of solid form)


Heller, M., & Duchene, A. (2007). Discourses of endangerment: Sociolinguistics, globalization and social order. (A. Duchene, & M. Heller, Eds.) London, UK: Continuum.


Jaffe, A. (2007). Discourses of Endangerment: Context and consequences of essentializing discourses. In A. Duchene, & M. Heller (Eds.), Discourses of Endangerment: Ideology and Interest in the Defence of Languages (pp. 57-75). London: Continuum.


Fishman, J. (ed) (2001). Can Threatened Languages Be Saved: reversing language shift revisted: a 21st century perspective? Clevedon, Multilingual Matters.


Harrison, K. David (2007). When Languages Die. Chapter 1 In A World of (Many) Fewer Voices (pp. 3-21). Oxford University Press.


Hill, J. H. (2001). Dimensions of Attrition in Language Death. In L. Maffi (Ed.), On Biocultural Diversity: linking language, knowledge, and the environment (pp. 175-189). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press

“What does it mean to lose a language?”)


Phillipson, R. & Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2013). Linguistic imperialism and endangered languages. In Bhatia, T. K. & Ritchie, W. C. (Eds.), Handbook of Bilingualism and Multilingualism, second edition (pp.494-516.). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.


Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (1984). Bilingualism or not: The education of minorities. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.


Tochon, F. V. (2009). The Key To Global Understanding: World Languages Education. Why Schools Need to Adapt. Review of Educational Research. 79(2), 650-682.


Wright, Sue (2004). 11 – Endangered Languages. In: Language policy and language planning. From nationalism to globalisation (pp.218-243).


UNESCO. (2012). UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger. Retrieved December 16, 2012, from UNESCO:


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Harrison, K.  M., & Tochon, F. V. (2013). Endangerment and Disappearance of Languages. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date).


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