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Trends in speakers of Arctic indigenous languages (1989-2006)

Year: 2010 Author: Hugo Ahlenius, GRID-Arendal & CAFF
Language not only communicates, it defines culture, nature, history, humanity, and ancestry. The indigenous languages of the Arctic have been formed and shaped in close contact with their environment. They are a valuable source of information and a wealth of knowledge on human interactions with nature is encoded in these languages. If a language is lost, a world is lost. This deep knowledge and interconnectedness is expressed in Arctic song, subsistence practices, and other cultural expressions but especially in place names across the Arctic. Place names of the indigenous peoples reflect subsistence practices, stories, dwelling sites, spawning sites, migratory routes of animals, and links to the sacred realms of the indigenous peoples of the north. From surveys it was possible to calculate change in the absolute number of speakers and proportion of speakers for 44 of the surveyed languages. Only 4 languages displayed an increase in absolute numbers of speakers, proportion of speakers and net population. Thirty nine of the surveyed languages experienced a decrease in vitality over the last decade, i.e., a decrease in numbers of speakers and in the proportion of speakers within their populations. Thirty-five languages experienced reductions in proportion of speakers and 22 of these ranged from 10–50%. Of the remaining languages all but seven experienced reductions of over 10% in the absolute numbers of speakers within their populations. Some languages, such as the Enet language of the Russian Federation experienced a 70% decrease in the numbers of speakers. Only twelve languages displayed an increase in absolute numbers of speakers The Inuit language(s) had the highest gain while the Chukchi language had the greatest loss.
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