What is the Least Spoken Language in the World?

6 December 2023

In a world where communication is key, languages play a vital role in connecting people from different cultures and backgrounds.

While many of us use widely spoken languages like English, Mandarin, or Spanish, there are countless lesser-known and rare languages that are teetering on the brink of extinction.

So, what’s the rarest language in the world?

In this blog post, we’ll embark on a linguistic journey to uncover the world’s least spoken and endangered languages, shedding more light on the rarest languages in the world.

Let’s tease some of the topics we’ll discuss here:

  • What is the least spoken language in the world or what is the most unknown language? Where can it be heard, and who are the people who use it?
  • What are the other rarest languages in the world?
  • How many endangered languages are there?
  • Why is preservation of rare languages so important?

Without further ado, let’s start and learn more about the least spoken languages in the world!

Old wooden house by the river.

The world’s least spoken language is…?

The title of “the least spoken language” is a prestigious one, held by several endangered languages that only have a handful of speakers left. These most uncommon languages often go unnoticed, but they are a testament to the rich tapestry of human culture and history.

But if we had to choose, what is the rarest language in the world or which language is the least spoken?

The answer would probably be the Lemerig languge, also known as Sasar or Banks-Inseln.

Why?

Because there are only 2 remaining speakers of this language today! The Endangered Languages Project claims that there were 5 speakers of this least spoken language in the world in 2003, but the number went down to 2, according to info from 2012.

Lemerig is a language spoken on Vanua Lava – an island that’s a part of Banks Islands in South Pacific Ocean. They settled an area inhabited by the Mwotlap speakers. Mwotlap, with over 2000 speakers, is one of the languages that contributed to the receding of the Lemerig language.

This least spoken language in the world is a part of the Austronesian family, which is widely spoken in Maritime Southeast Asia. This region consists of countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines. Other languages from the Austronesian include Filipino, Malay and Indonesian.

The name of this least known language in the world is said to be a reference to an abandoned village situated in the northern part of the Vanua Lava island.

Is it possible to learn the world’s rarest language?

According to Endangered Languages Project, there are no learning resources for Lemerig. In order to learn the world’s rarest language and become one of the fluent speakers, one would probably have to contact the 2 remaining native speakers of this tongue.

The ELP says that it is possible to directly approach the community leaders and ask if the native speakers would want to accept someone as a language learner.

Here’s a YouTube video with one of the 2 remaining native speakers of Lemerig using this dying language.

But if you want break language barriers all around the world, take advantage of the Vasco voice transator. Not only can you understand even 108 languages, but you can also translate images, enter an online chat with translation and memorize vocabulary in 28 languages.

This universal translator offers a couple of unknown languages, such as Malay, Hausa and Cebuano. Maybe Lemerig will be one of the languages provided by this real time translator device too.

An elderly person in ethnic clothes.

What are the other rarest languages in the world?

The Ainu language

One of the rarest languages in the world is believed to be Ainu. It is an official language to the indigenous Ainu people of Japan. Ainu is a language spoken only by a few elderly speakers, thus it faces a grim future and is considered to be an endangered language.

Who are the Ainu people?

The Ainu people are indigenous to the northern regions of Japan, primarily Hokkaido, as well as parts of the Kuril Islands and the northernmost island of Honshu.

Historically, they had a distinct culture, lifestyle, and language that set them apart from the majority Japanese population.

The Ainu have a rich cultural heritage, including unique clothing, rituals, and artistic expressions, such as intricate woodcarvings.

Characteristics of one of the world’s least spoken languages

Ainu is an isolated language, which means it has no known relationship with other tongues. This linguistic isolation of this rarest language has contributed to its uniqueness.

It is one of the solely spoken languages, thus has traditionally no writing system, relying on oral transmission. It’s also known for its rich oral literature, including epic poetry and stories.

This rarest language is also notable for its complex grammar, which includes numerous cases and a rich system of derivational affixes, making it a linguistically intricate language.

It’s polysynthetic, which means that complex words are created by adding prefixes, suffixes, and infixes to a root.

One of the endangered languages

The Ainu language has been in severe decline for many years. The assimilation and marginalization of the Ainu people into Japanese society, along with government policies discouraging the use of the Ainu language, have played a significant role in the endangerment of the language.

In recent years, there have been efforts to revitalize the Ainu language and culture. The Japanese government officially recognized the Ainu as an indigenous people in 2008, and this recognition has led to increased support for Ainu cultural preservation and language revitalization initiatives.

Ainu language classes, educational materials, and documentation efforts have been initiated to help pass down the language to younger generations and ensure its survival.

These efforts are crucial in preserving this unique part of human linguistic and cultural heritage.

Three women from the Amazon forest.

The Pirahã language

When it comes to the least spoken languages in the world, the Pirahã language is a unique and highly fascinating tongue spoken by the Pirahã people, an indigenous group living in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil.

Pirahã is known for its distinctive linguistic features and its status as one of the most enigmatic languages in the world. Here are some key aspects of the Pirahã language:

Unique Linguistic Features

Phonemic Simplicity: Pirahã is remarkable for its phonemic simplicity. It has a small inventory of sounds, consisting of only a few consonants and vowels. This linguistic minimalism is in stark contrast to many other languages with complex sound systems.

No Fixed Number Words: Instead of using specific words for numbers, Pirahã speakers use approximate terms like “few” or “many.” This linguistic feature has raised intriguing questions about the Pirahã people’s perception of numbers and mathematics.

No Fixed Verb Tense: Pirahã lacks fixed verb tenses. Instead, verb forms indicate the source of information and the speaker’s certainty about the events described. This flexibility in verb tense has puzzled linguists and challenged conventional linguistic theories.

Whistled Speech: The Pirahã language includes a whistled speech known as “whistled speech surrogates.” This allows Pirahã speakers to communicate over long distances in the dense Amazon rainforest, where verbal communication might be limited.

Cultural and Linguistic Taboos: Pirahã language and culture are intertwined. The language incorporates cultural taboos, and some topics are difficult to discuss directly. For example, they do not use direct speech for many religious or supernatural concepts, which adds to the language’s uniqueness.

Endangerment and Preservation

Like many indigenous languages around the world, Pirahã is endangered. The encroachment of outside influences, including Portuguese and other languages, has put pressure on the survival of the Pirahã language.

Efforts are being made by linguists and indigenous advocates to document and revitalize the language to ensure its preservation for future generations.

A person sitting on the cliff and looking at the ocean.

The Manx Galeic language

Manx Gaelic, also known as “Gaelg” or “Gailck,” is a traditional language spoken on the Isle of Man, a self-governing British Crown Dependency located in the Irish Sea. Manx Gaelic is a Goidelic language, belonging to the same language family as Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic. It is believed to be one of the world’s least spoken languages.

Historical and Cultural Significance

Manx Gaelic has a rich historical heritage, with roots dating back to the early medieval period. It shares a common ancestry with the other Gaelic languages of Ireland and Scotland, and it has its own unique features and vocabulary that reflect the island’s distinct culture and history.

Manx Gaelic is an integral part of the cultural identity of the Isle of Man. It is expressed in music, literature, and folklore, helping to connect the island’s present with its rich past. Traditional Manx music, in particular, features lyrics in Manx Gaelic and is celebrated in the island’s cultural events and festivals.

Language Decline and Revival

Like many minority languages, Manx Gaelic faced a significant decline in the 20th century, with the number of native speakers dwindling.

By the mid-20th century, the language was considered critically endangered. However, efforts to revive and preserve Manx Gaelic gained momentum.

Language enthusiasts, cultural organizations, and the Manx government have made substantial efforts to revitalize the Manx Gaelic language.

These initiatives include language classes, educational programs, and the development of teaching materials. The Manx government has also supported the use of Manx Gaelic in official documents and road signs.

Modern Usage

As one of the world’s least spoken languages, Manx Galeic is not widely used as a community language, it is still actively used in the cultural, educational, and artistic spheres of the Isle of Man. There are native Manx speakers, as well as learners and enthusiasts who are passionate about preserving and promoting the language.

Two Arabic people speaking with each other.

How many endangered languages are there?

The number of endangered languages worldwide is difficult to pinpoint precisely due to the dynamic nature of language endangerment and the ongoing efforts to document and revitalize these languages.

However, as of January 2022, it was estimated that there were approximately 7,000 languages spoken around the world, and a significant proportion of them were considered endangered to varying degrees.

But what makes a language endangered?

The world’s least spoken languages are often classified into different categories of endangerment, such as “critically endangered,” “severely endangered,” and “vulnerable,” based on factors like the number of speakers, intergenerational transmission, and the presence of language documentation and revitalization efforts.

Estimates suggest that a large percentage of the world’s languages are at risk of disappearing in the coming decades. Language loss is a consequence of various factors, including globalization, cultural assimilation, and the dominance of larger, more widely spoken languages.

Efforts are ongoing to document and preserve endangered languages, but the situation remains challenging.

Linguists, indigenous communities, and language activists are working tirelessly to raise awareness and protect linguistic diversity, which is an essential component of our global cultural heritage.

To obtain the most up-to-date information on the number and status of endangered languages, it’s advisable to consult recent research, linguistic databases, and resources provided by organizations focused on language preservation and documentation.

The tongues that we mentioned above in this article are all considered to be endengared languages.

Pages from a very old book.

Why is preservation of rare languages so important?

Language preservation is essential for maintaining the cultural diversity and richness of our world. These least spoken languages in the world hold valuable insights into different ways of life, traditional knowledge, and unique worldviews.

As we learn about these endangered languages, we also come to appreciate the urgent need to support language revitalization efforts.

What is the Least Spoken Language in the World: Conclusion

In this article, we found, among others, what is the rarest language or what is the most unknown language and why is language preservation so important.

The least spoken languages in the world represent a challenge and a responsibility for humanity. As we delve into the world of rare and endangered languages, it becomes evident that every language, no matter how rare or unknown, contributes to the global mosaic of human heritage. It’s up to us to recognize their value and work towards their preservation and revitalization.

If you’re passionate about linguistics and cultural diversity, take the time to learn more about these endangered languages and consider supporting organizations dedicated to their preservation.

Let’s ensure that these unique and precious linguistic gems are not lost to the sands of time.

NUTSHELL:

This blog explores the world’s least spoken and endangered languages, focusing on the rarest, Lemerig language, with only two speakers remaining. It delves into the characteristics of other endangered languages like Ainu, Pirahã, and Manx Gaelic, discussing their linguistic uniqueness and cultural significance. The article also touches on the challenges of language preservation, emphasizing its importance in maintaining global cultural diversity. Highlighting the endangered status of many languages worldwide, the piece concludes by urging support for revitalization efforts and recognition of the value each language contributes to the global heritage mosaic. In a call to action, the blog encourages readers to delve into linguistics, learn about endangered languages, and consider supporting organizations dedicated to their preservation.

FAQ:

What is the current status of the Lemerig language, and why is it considered the rarest language in the world?

The Lemerig language is currently on the brink of extinction, with only two remaining speakers as of the last available information. Its rarity is attributed to a drastic decline in the number of speakers, from five in 2003 to two by 2012. Factors contributing to its endangered status include influences from neighboring languages like Mwotlap and a lack of language preservation efforts.

How does the Ainu language reflect the cultural identity of the Ainu people, and what challenges has it faced in recent years?

The Ainu language is integral to the cultural identity of the Ainu people, indigenous to northern Japan. It has historical significance, with unique features like a lack of a writing system and a rich oral tradition. In recent years, Ainu has faced challenges due to assimilation into Japanese society and government policies discouraging its use. Efforts are underway for language revitalization, including official recognition of the Ainu people and initiatives to preserve Ainu culture.

In what ways does the Pirahã language stand out linguistically, and what unique features contribute to its enigmatic nature?

The Pirahã language is linguistically unique with features such as phonemic simplicity, absence of fixed verb tenses, and the use of whistled speech. Its phonemic simplicity, limited consonants and vowels, is distinct from many other languages. The language’s flexible verb tense system and cultural taboos embedded within it add to its enigmatic nature. Additionally, Pirahã speakers use approximate terms instead of specific numbers, challenging conventional linguistic theories. Efforts are being made to document and revitalize Pirahã due to its endangered status in the face of external influences.

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Robert Faber

Robert is an avid traveler and a fan of new technologies. He can cook well, but never has enough time to do so and he ends up complaining about most meals. A regular at the gym.

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