How serious is the extinction of a language?

I posed this question in a survey:

Is the extinction of an animal species worse than the extinction of a language?

It’s a question that has provoked a reaction…

“This is stupid. One question? And it asks if the extinction of a language is worse than the extinction of an animal…. How is that even comparable on any level? Don’t make a ridiculous comparison.  Animals and languages are completely unrelated”

Then again…

“What a thought-provoking survey question. I know what we’ll be discussing at dinner tonight!”

Other comments:

“Animal extinction is worse because (at least for any language that were to become extinct now) a language will still be present in old writings, etc, thus can be revisited and even retaught at a later time; an extinct animal cannot be brought back”

“Son situaciones diferentes” (They are are different situations ie they cannot be compared)

“We can reinvent language and adapt to our situation in order to communicate. Languages have already become ‘extinct’ but we can revive them through study…. Not so with those poor beasties”

“Communication is not language reliant – but being alive to communicate is!”

“Nor is the opposite true”

Meanwhile, there were those who ‘declined to comment’ (so I’m supposing they were holding themselves back!)

Here are the results:

extinction of languages

It’s almost ‘neck and neck’, but if there’s no obvious conclusion to be gleaned from the results of the survey, I have at least learned that drawing a comparison between animal and language species has had an unexpectedly provocative effect on those whom the message has reached. Well, I suppose it is a comparison that has rarely, if ever, been drawn previously.

My thanks to the 36 respondents and everyone who felt provoked in any way by the nature of the question!

See you next time,


Jim Porter is a co-founder of Speekee, home of the most comprehensive Spanish learning program for children ever to appear online

Jim began his Spanish learning journey in 1990. He has been a language teacher since 1994 and he lives in sunny southern Spain with his two bilingual children. Loves it! More…



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