News FocusLINGUISTICS

Learning the World's Languages--Before They Vanish

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Science  19 May 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5469, pp. 1156-1159
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5469.1156

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Summary

Linguists are rushing to study endangered languages, which may hold clues to solving the longest running battle in modern linguistics: whether grammar--the structure of language--is innate or learned. Studying such languages may also help linguists determine how speech influences thought. But with half--and perhaps up to 90%--of the world's 6000 to 7000 languages expected to disappear in the 21st century, researchers are in a race against time to catalog them all before they're extinct.