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Top 10 Rare Languages Still Spoken Around the World

VO: Rebecca Brayton

Script written by Laura Keating.

What’s the least spoken language in the world? It might be one of these rare languages to learn. Whether it’s Archi, only spoken in a few Russian villages, Friulian, which has about 600 thousand speakers around the world, or Basque, spoken mainly near the Pyrenees mountains, these are some of the least spoken languages on the planet. WatchMojo counts down ten languages so scarce you won’t believe they’re still spoken.

Special thanks to our user on jwiking62 for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at http://WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top+10+Bizarre+Languages+Still+Spoken+Around+the+World

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Transcript
Script written by Laura Keating.

Top 10 Rare Languages Still Spoken Around the World


Fancy yourself a linguist? Why not brush up on one of these obscure tongues? Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Rare Languages Still Spoken Around the World.

For this list, we’re looking at the rarest “organic” languages, meaning those that arose naturally, and were not intentionally created – like Esperanto or Lincos – or created for TV or movies, like Klingon or Na'vi.

#10: Friulian

While this Romance language is spoken by roughly 600,000 people worldwide, the vast majority of speakers are found in northern Italy near the Slovenian border. Related to Ladin (spelled with a “d”, not a “t”), the language took on its own identity over the centuries under the influence of Slovene, Italian, German, and Venetian. Oddly, despite originating deep in alpine Italy, the language is thought to be more similar to French in construction than Italian. Though once very much isolated to the province of Udine, poverty in that region has seen Friulian-speaking Italians move across the globe and generate more interest in the distinct language.

#9: Tuyuca

This uncommon language is spoken by the Tuyuca, an indigenous people located near the Papurí, in Inambú and Tiquié rivers in South America. It is a polysynthetic language, meaning that complex words are created by staking simple words together, and as a result, it is notoriously hard to learn. With about 50 to 140 genders or noun classes, it is considered one of the most difficult languages in the world. You really have to be immersed in it daily to even begin to get it right. Not to mention that there are tones to worry about. So, unless you are one of the 500-1000 native speakers, good luck.

#8: Yupik

Like in the previous entry, the Yupik lexicon is polysynthetic, and largely created with combinations. The new words can have very, very specific meanings. You can basically create sentences out of a single word. An often-cited example is, well, this word [“Tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq,”] which means “He had not yet said again that he was going to hunt reindeer.” It’s spoken by the Yupik peoples in Alaska and far eastern Russia, where more than 75% of the population is fluent in this language, or rather, some form of it. You see… “Yupik” isn’t one language but rather a collection of similar but distinct languages, one of which is actually extinct.

#7: Pawnee

Another polysynthetic language, this one is perhaps the big boss of them all. The language – spoken by Native Americans of the same name who reside predominantly in what is now Oklahoma – has a fairly simple alphabetical set up, with only eight vowels and nine consonants. However, most sentences will have at least one word with more than ten syllables, with some words containing as many as 30! With the number of native speakers shrinking as the population ages, the Pawnee Nation has developed programs to teach the language to youth and adults alike in hopes of saving it from extinction.

#6: Archi

Spoken almost exclusively in the village of Archib and the six, smaller, nearby villages in southern Dagestan, Russia, this one is seriously rare. For a long time, there was no writing system, and it wasn’t until 2006 that a Cyrillic-based alphabet was created for this Northeast Caucasian language. It has a ton of phonemes (or distinguishing sounds), and an incredible morphological system, with many irregularities. For every verb root, there are over 1.5 million forms to be derived. And you thought your “Intro to Spanish” class was hard.

#5: Pirahã

As a change of pace, here is a much simpler language. In fact, it is often thought to be one of the simplest languages in the world, with ten or less phonemes. Sometimes there are no words at all, only hums. It is also lacking many descriptors common in other languages. There don’t seem to be any words for colors, numbers, or past and future tenses. The language of the isolated Pirahã people of Brazil, it is the only remaining dialect of the Mura language, which once had a robust speaking population of 30-60,000, but has dwindled to just about 300 native speakers.

#4: Basque

A language isolate, Basque is its own language family, and there is nothing else like it in the world. Basque speakers are mainly found near the western Pyrenees mountains, between Spain and France. Predating almost all Indo-European languages, the origins of Basque are shrouded in mystery. It was once even postulated that Basque dated back to prehistoric Europe, based off the theory that many of the words for various tools contained the root word for “stone,” suggesting a Stone Age beginning. This is now known as the Aizkora Controversy, and widely debated. The language was strongly discouraged during the Franco regime in Spain, but in the 1960s measures were taken to strengthen this ancient language.

#3: Welsh

Developing out of Common Brittonic, and likely arriving in Britain during either the Bronze or Iron Age, this Insular Celtic tongue has enjoyed a revival, thanks in large part to grassroot efforts to reclaim the language. Like many Celtic languages, by the 20th Century the populations of native speakers were dwindling sharply, in large part due to old English laws and practices that sought to wipe them out. In 2011, the ‘Welsh Language Measure’ granted this Brittonic language official status. This makes it the only other official language in Britain outside of English. Some words are a bit tricky, so you might need a little practice in order to achieve fluency, however.

#2: Taa

One of the many Khoisan languages, which incorporate clicks, Taa is spoken by native peoples living Botswana and to a much lesser degree, Namibia. It is perhaps most famous for being the language with likely the most number of phonemes, as it incorporates not only vowel and consonant sounds, but also many clicks, and tones within those clicks. It is the closest living relative, so to speak, to the traditional South African “Nǁng” language, which, sadly, is all but extinct, with only three native speakers left as of 2013. Despite its sound range, Taa is assembled in a common Subject-Verb-Object agreement – the sentence structure shared by many other languages, including English, French, and Chinese.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Xhosa

- Sentinelese


#1: Silbo Gomero

This incredible language is composed entirely of whistles. The rising and falling pitches replace words completely, with the quick trills constructing full sentences. In its native location on the Canary Islands, the people developed it as a way to quickly send messages up and down the mountainous terrain. Done right, it can be heard up to 3 miles away! Long before the days of cellphones, it was a quick way to send invitations, public announcements, or just to ask if someone had seen persons x, y, or z. Of course, everyone else can hear your message, so maybe keep any mean tweets to yourself, right?
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