IATE Term of the Week: Digital Language Extinction


It is said that 70 to 90% of languages are gradually driving to extinction. Do you think that digital technology is trying to elevate this problem of language extinction or exasperate it?


Language is a part of our culture and identity and it is an important component and heritage for every community. The EU is branded by its linguistic and multicultural diversity, and the languages spoken in EU countries are an essential part of its exquisite cultural heritage.

Unfortunately, a new study by Europe’s leading Language Technology experts warns that in this digital age most European languages are unlikely to survive. Assessing the level of support through language technology for 30 of the approximately 80 European languages, the experts conclude that digital support for 21 of the 30 languages investigated is “non-existent”, or “weak” at best. The study “Europe’s Languages in the Digital Age” was carried out by META-NET, a European network of excellence that consists of 60 research centres in 34 countries, working on the technological foundations of multilingual Europe.

What is Digital language extinction?

Digital language extinction is the fact that certain languages disappear from the digital realm as a result of a process of underrepresentation in the Internet. Linguistic underrepresentation can be managed, but imagine “linguistic extinction”! This will have a drastic impact on our future culture and society, thus language extinction will amount to the loss of intergenerational culture and identity (legacy).

Today much of language communication occurs digitally and the lack of language accessibility in digital spheres has hindered some (minority) languages.

Some observable signs of Language extinction are:

  1. The loss of function, seen whenever other languages take over entire functional areas such as commerce.
  2. The loss of prestige, especially clearly reflected in the attitudes of the younger generation.
  3. The loss of competence, manifested by the emergence of ‘semi-speakers’ who still understand the older generation, but adopt a drastically simplified (reanalysed) version of the grammar.

However, it is said that a language may not be completely dead until the death of its last speaker.

At present, Europe is more passionate and concern about preserving and promoting its languages than it has been before, it is concerned about digital language extinction and digital language equality (passed by the European Parliament in September 2018), it is also very interested in the idea of establishing a solid language technology base for overcoming language barriers and extinction.

For example, the ECSPM (European civil society platform for multilingualism) is one of 52 partners in a consortium of European organisations working towards the goal of digital language equality by 2030, on the basis of the European Language Equality (ELE) project which is a direct response to the resolution “Language equality in the digital age”.

The ELE project, which started on 1 January 2021 and will end in June 2022, closely collaborates with the European Language Grid (ELG) that will strengthen the commercial European Language Technology landscape, offering powerful multilingual, cross-lingual and monolingual technologies, ELG will contribute to the emergence of a truly connected, language-crossing Multilingual Digital Single Market.

Prof. Dr. Annette Schavan (German Minister of Education and Research)

“Europe’s inherent multilingualism and our scientific expertise are the perfect prerequisites for significantly advancing the challenge that language technology poses. META-NET opens up new opportunities for the development of ubiquitous multilingual technologies.”


Digital Language Death. 2022. Digital Language Death. [ONLINE] Available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0077056. [Accessed 08 April 2022].

dli-cornell-tech. 2022. DL Seminar | Saving Languages from Digital Extinction. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.dli.tech.cornell.edu/post/dl-seminar-saving-languages-from-digital-extinction. [Accessed 08 April 2022].

ECSPM. 2022. European Language Equality. [ONLINE] Available at: https://ecspm.org/. [Accessed 8 April 2022].

European Language Equality. 2022. European Language Equality. [ONLINE] Available at: https://european-language-equality.eu/2021/06/25/what-is-digital-language-equality/. [Accessed 08 April 2022].

European Union. 2022. Languages. [ONLINE] Available at: https://european-union.europa.eu/principles-countries-history/languages_en [Accessed 08 April 2022].

META-NET White Paper Series: All Quotes and Testimonials — META Multilingual Europe Technology Alliance. 2022. META-NET White Paper Series: All Quotes and Testimonials — META Multilingual Europe Technology Alliance. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.meta-net.eu/whitepapers/all-quotes-and-testimonials. [Accessed 08 April 2022].

Utrecht University. 2022. Many European languages in danger of digital extinction – News – Utrecht University. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.uu.nl/en/news/many-european-languages-in-danger-of-digital-extinction. [Accessed 08 April 2022].

Alice Final

Written by Alice Ako Achuo 

She is a study Visitor in Communication at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg) and currently enrolled in the Master in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts at the University of Luxembourg. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Communication from the University of Douala-Cameroon. She has worked in communication and media-related fields. She speaks French, and English and she is currently learning German.