As many Indians know, language evokes intense emotions in many parts of India. What most of us might not know is, “At present, about half of all languages are spoken by communities of 10,000 or fewer, and hundreds have just 10 speakers or fewer. On every continent, the median number of speakers for a language is below 1,000, and in Australia this figure goes as low as 87.” Ross Perlin kicks off this long read in The Guardian with this mind blowing fact.

He then goes on to explain that: “Today, these numbers reflect serious endangerment, and even languages with hundreds of thousands or a few million speakers can be considered vulnerable. In the past, however, small language communities could be quite stable, especially hunter-gatherer groups, which typically comprised fewer than 1,000 people. Likewise, most older sign languages, now critically endangered, evolved in so-called deaf villages, where the incidence of hereditary deafness in the population was significantly higher than elsewhere, though still rarely more than about 2%. Many hearing people in these villages could also sign, but the core group of signers was typically several hundred at most.”

So, why are so many languages endangered now? The issue, Mr Perlin, explains is not that there is so few speakers of thousands of languages: “In general, sheer speaker or signer numbers have always mattered less than intergenerational transmission. A small language can apparently remain strong for centuries as long as parents, grandparents and other caregivers are using it with children. Take Gurr-Goni, an Aboriginal language from north-central Arnhem Land in Australia, which has had just several dozen speakers as far back as anyone can remember. Far from being an isolated group, Gurr-Goni speakers maintained their language in a context of multilingual equilibrium, where each “father tongue” was integrally connected with certain ancestral lands and natural resources. It’s this kind of equilibrium that has been vanishing fast as colonial and national languages take over…languages are not “dying natural deaths”, but being hounded out of existence…

A comparatively small number of empires and nation states, now bristling with 24/7 communication and education systems, cover every inch of the Earth. Worldwide, centuries of imperialism, capitalism, urbanisation, environmental destruction and nation building are now coming to a head linguistically. With power behind them, a few hundred languages keep growing and getting all the resources, while the other 95% struggle.

Particularly dominant are just a few dozen languages of wider communication, less politely called “killer languages”. English, Spanish and Chinese are on the march, but so are Nepali and Brazilian Portuguese. These languages are spreading through political, economic and cultural conquest, and the consequences are seeping into everything.”

So, why should you & I care about the death of languages? Because when a community or a family loses its native language, it loses part of its history and a part of its identity. Many of us who live in urban India and speak English at home and at work have seen this happen first hand: “The spheres of use for smaller languages and nonstandard varieties are continually shrinking: they often emerge only in private, yielding as soon as a speaker steps outside. Now the shift is happening inside homes as well. Families around the world are hitching their fate to English and other dominant languages – abandoning not just words, but vast traditions of gesture, intonation, facial expression, conversational style and perhaps even the culture and character behind all these. Only in the face of intense political, economic, religious or social pressures do people stop passing on their mother tongues to children, but today these pressures are everywhere. The disruption of this basic natural process has come to feel almost normal.

English in particular, supercharged by business, pop culture and the internet after centuries of colonial expansion, is the real empire of our time – far more fluid and influential than any political entity. Many English speakers go their entire lives without encountering anything significant they can’t do or get in their language. Whatever the power dynamics of any given conversation, English is pure linguistic privilege, the reserve currency of communication. The push to learn it is an event of planetary significance, swelling a linguistic community of going on half a billion native English speakers worldwide, plus another 1 or 2 billion who know it as a second language…

Many people think the world, or at least their corner of it, is growing ever more diverse, but monolinguals are increasingly in charge…

From the glottis to the lips, the whole tract where spoken language happens is just five or six inches long. Across evolutionary eons, a space for eating and breathing gradually took on linguistic uses, not just anywhere but at certain places of articulation: the lips, the teeth, the alveolar ridge, the hard palate and the soft one behind it, the uvula that hangs like a little grape above the throat, the pharynx and the larynx. The tongue – that near-universal symbol of language – darts and bends to make contact wherever it can….

A multilingual childhood, only now widely recognised as an inestimable cognitive advantage, can add a whole dimension to someone’s understanding of the world, with a sense of linguistic and cultural perspective.”

It is incredibly interesting that in this age of rising nationalism, so many people in so many countries are letting go of their native tongue with so little resistance. It makes one wonder whether the rising nationalism is a facade behind which we are hiding the destruction of our underlying identities. And, why are people so willing to allow the erasure of their underlying identities? Answering that question is beyond our pay grade in Marcellus but it is a question whose answers could potentially open the door to some lucrative investment opportunities.

If you want to read our other published material, please visit

Note: the above material is neither investment research, nor financial advice. Marcellus does not seek payment for or business from this publication in any shape or form. Marcellus Investment Managers is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India as a provider of Portfolio Management Services. Marcellus Investment Managers is also regulated in the United States as an Investment Advisor.

Copyright © 2022 Marcellus Investment Managers Pvt Ltd, All rights reserved.

2024 © | All rights reserved.

Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions