Recently, The New York Times reported that the “near-extinct” Nepalese language Seke has just 700 speakers around the world. Of these, 100 are in New York, and roughly half of these 100 stay in one building in the city. 

About Nepal’s Seke Language:

  • According to the Endangered Language Alliance (ELA), Seke is one of the over 100 indigenous languages of Nepal and is mainly spoken in the five villages of Chuksang, Chaile, Gyakar, Tangbe and Tetang in the Upper Mustang district.

Endangered Language Alliance (ELA):

Founded in 2010, the Endangered Language Alliance (ELA) is a non-profit based dedicated to supporting linguistic diversity and endangered languages in New York City and beyond. 

ELA’s unique network of researchers, activists, and students documents the speech, stories, and songs of immigrant, refugee, and diaspora communities, bringing it to a wider audience.

  • In recent years, Seke has been retreating in the face of Nepali, which is Nepal’s official language and is considered to be crucial for getting educational and employment opportunities outside villages.

UNESCO and Endangered Languages:

  • It has six degrees of endangerment:
    • Safe - Languages spoken by all generations and their intergenerational transmission is uninterrupted. 
    • Vulnerable - Languages are spoken by most children but may be restricted to certain domains. 
    • Definitely Endangered - Languages that are no longer being learned by children as their mother tongue.
    • Severely Endangered - Languages are spoken by grandparents and older generations, and while the parent generation may understand it, they may not speak it with the children or among themselves. 
    • Critically Endangered - Languages of which the youngest speakers are the grandparents or older family members who may speak the language partially or infrequently 
    • Extinct -  Languages of which no speakers are left.
  •  As per UNESCO, roughly 57 percent of the world’s estimated 6,000 languages are safe, about 10 percent are vulnerable, 10.7 percent are definitely endangered, about 9 percent are severely endangered, 9.6 percent are critically endangered and about 3.8 percent of all languages are extinct since 1950.

Considering these definitions, Seke may be considered to be a definitely endangered language.

As per the Endangered Languages Project (ELP), there are roughly 201 endangered languages in India and about 70 in Nepal. Further to signify their importance UN declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Endangered Languages Project (ELP)

  • It is a worldwide collaboration between indigenous language organizations, linguists, institutions of higher education, and key industry partners to strengthen endangered languages. 
  • The foundation of the project is a website, which was launched in June 2012.
  • The goals of the ELP are to foster the exchange of information related to at-risk languages and accelerate endangered language research and documentation, to support communities engaged in protecting or revitalizing their languages, etc.

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