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The San are one of the oldest groups to inhabit Southern Africa. From Zimbabwe and South Africa, to Botswana and Namibia, the San people have their own repertoire of languages, easily recognizable by their use of clicks. The influence of these languages on the peoples they encountered is still visible to this day, with the best example being isiXhosa, which integrated the clicks into their speech.

Unfortunately, many of these San languages, such as Khwe and !Xu, no longer exist. They join a list of languages that have now gone extinct, and with the relentless dominance of international languages such as English and French, the survival of the world’s small  language groups is increasingly coming under threat.

Professor Mark De Vos is a linguistics professor at Rhodes University, as well as serving as the president of the Linguistics Society of Southern Africa. Having studied language variation with recent focus on indigenous languages, De Vos is concerned with efforts to conserve endangered languages in Southern Africa. “If people don’t see a need to conserve or speak a language outside that language’s community, it (the language) will die.” With little to no support from local government agencies and lack of funding into research, the question now is what can be done to save more languages from extinction, and why is it important to document and promote them?

With the death of each language, a well of knowledge is lost. Some languages such as |Xam are lucky enough to have been documented before extinction, so researchers and linguists have some texts to work with. Many others have not been so lucky. In order to prevent such losses in the future, conservation efforts from ordinary citizens, researchers and agencies to must protect the languages that need it the most.  Our common human heritage is at stake.

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