UNESCO: Nine Costa Rican languages in danger

May 29, 2009

A new study suggests nine of Costa Rica´s indigenous languages are in danger of extinction, with every generation producing fewer daily speakers.

The report, released by the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), lists three of Costa Rica´s languages as “critically endangered,” which is one step away from extinct.

The three facing the most threat, according to the report, all have a dwindling number of people who speak the language regularly with children in upcoming generations learning it as their mother tongue or speaking it at home.

Two of the languages, Boruca and Teribe, spoken in the Térraba Valley in southwestern Costa Rica, each have fewer than 70 native speakers. The third, and most endangered, is Chorotega, which has close to 16 native speakers near Turrialba, east of San José.

The other six endangered languages are spread thin across the country. They range from “severely endangered” to “unsafe,” and from having 55,000 speakers, as does Limón Creole, to fewer than 100, like the three in critical danger.

Languages fall into peril when the older generations stop speaking the language in the household and teaching it to younger generations as their native language, the report says. Slowly, Spanish has begun to replace these local languages as the primary tongue.

According to the report, there are close to 2,500 endangered languages worldwide, with 230 having gone extinct over the past half-century.

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