Obscure language isolate will die with this woman

Seventy-five-year-old Gyani Maiyi Sen is the only native fluent speaker of Kusunda in the world, and linguists are rushing to record the unique language. Around the globe languages are dying rapidly as more and more people are learning global languages instead of maintaining their native tongues. Kusunda, a unique language of Nepal, is another of these dying languages.

Linguists, like biologists, have a scale to measure how endangered a language is. A language is considered “safe” if it will be spoken by children in 100 years. A language is classified as “endangered” when it is unlikely that children will speak it in 100 years. However, Kusunda is more vulnerable than that. It is technically a “moribund” language, which means that no children are currently learning it. When the last native speakers die, a language officially becomes extinct.

Kusunda is unique not only because it is moribund, but it is also a language isolate. Like Basque, Kusunda is not related to any other spoken language. Linguists are rushing to Nepal to record Sen speaking and describing Kusunda. The language does not have an alphabet, though, which makes this task difficult. Some linguists have speculated that Kusunda may be related to Indo-Pacific languages spoken in the Pacific Islands, but there is no definitive correlation.

Recently linguists determined that an endangered language spoken in Siberia is related to languages spoken by Native American groups. Learn its full history here.

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