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Last updated at 17:28 BST, Tuesday, 05 May 2009

Disappearing languages

Summary

4 May 2009

The United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, says more than a third of the world's six thousand languages are in danger of extinction. Of those two thousand, it says, about two hundred are spoken by only a handful of people.

Reporter:
Leonardo Rocha
An Australian Aborigine playing didgeridu

An Australian Aborigine playing didgeridu

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Report

When a language dies, UNESCO says the world loses valuable cultural heritage - a great deal of the legends, poems and the knowledge gathered by generations is simply lost. In 2008, Alaska's last native speaker of Eyak died, taking the language with her.

Marie Smith Jones praying in Eyak

Chief Marie Smith Jones, praying here for the survival of the Eyaks. She died at the age of eighty-nine, campaigning to save her people's heritage.

UNESCO says government action is needed if the world is to preserve its linguistic diversity. People must be proud to speak their language to ensure it survives.

In the last five years, the governments of Mexico, New Zealand and the United States managed to reverse the trend locally. But UNESCO says the phenomenon of dying languages appears in every region and in very diverse economic conditions.

Leonardo Rocha, BBC

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Vocabulary

UNESCO
short for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
valuable cultural heritage
features belonging to a particular society, such as traditions, languages, buildings or works of art, which still exist from the past, are unique and therefore have a historical importance
a great deal of
many, a lot of
legends
old stories presented as history but unlikely to be true
native speaker of
someone whose first language, or mother tongue, is
campaigning
taking action aimed at achieving a goal
to preserve its linguistic diversity
to save the great number of languages currently spoken
to reverse the trend
here, to make sure people are encouraged to speak rare languages, so those languages can survive