85% of the alphabets are at serious risk of extinction

85% of the alphabets are at serious risk of extinction
85% of the alphabets are at serious risk of extinction

Alphabets as well as languages represent a very important part of the values and culture of a particular place. However, due to the globalization and universalization of the Latin alphabet in the West, of the almost 800 existing alphabets in the world, we only use 140 alphabets of them to communicate, which means that 85% of the different writings and forms of communication, they are at risk of disappearing.

Endangered alphabets

Although we are increasingly aware of the disappearance of hundreds of languages (400 in the last century), it is not common to hear voices raised in defence of the different alphabets and their imminent loss.

The writing systems of the lesser-used dialects are at risk as a result of the use of alphabets that are universal to all cultures. As much as some systems try to keep alive with oral communication, the disuse of languages as a result of globalization and the lack of attention to the preservation of diverse cultural manifestations are condemning the scripts to death.

140 alphabets. This is the number of written languages currently in active use to establish communication between two parties

However, this is a figure that leaves hundreds of alphabets that are in the process of extinction out of the equation. To give you an idea, 85% of the writing systems created throughout history are no longer in use.

An example of this reality is the Kana, a Japanese writing system used only by women since the Middle Ages. As a result of the passage of time and since the mid-twentieth century, 90% of the spellings that made up this dialect had already disappeared. Now, the artist and calligrapher Kaoru Akagawa is trying to rescue this writing system, through some letters written by her grandmother using the same alphabet.

Why do they disappear?

On the one hand, because there are alphabets that require active use and learning to stay alive in time and, on the other hand, for political reasons. Throughout history, and more specifically during the colonial processes, hundreds of peoples were forced to leave their mother tongue to learn the language of the state that governed them.

For example, when Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan in 1971, the Bangladeshi government decided that the national language would be Bengali and not Marma, which meant that this alphabet is now a marginal one, compared to what it was 50 years ago.


Projects such as Endangered Alphabets were set up precisely to spread the 85% of alphabets that are currently endangered. By means of an atlas that records the history, the writing system, the evolution and the current situation of dozens of alphabets, and thanks to the private funding of the patrons who support this cause, the promoters of this project can maintain through the Internet a part of this intangible cultural heritage.

The French cows are dying for hundreds and nobody knows exactly why
The French cows are dying for hundreds and nobody knows exactly why

Beyond minority dialects

As an example, Dutch is one of those languages (and alphabets) that, as a consequence of reducing its use and presence, could eventually disappear in certain circles. In recent years, the internationalization of the Dutch university system has resulted in 60% of the programmes offered being taught in English. This is gradually making Dutch a language used in everyday and familiar settings, while English is the common language in academic circles and in some professional situations.


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