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July 2015

The world’s newest languages

A look at some of the youngest languages around the world

Languages evolve across time much like society, taking centuries to become the way that they are today. Certainly, the English of our day compared to the English of Shakespeare’s time are notably different. We are already familiar with many of the world’s predominant languages, but there are newer, lesser-known languages being spoken around the world. Today we’ll take a look at some of the world’s newest languages.

Light Warlpiri

The Warlpiri are an indigenous people living near the Tanami Desert in Australia's northern territory. Their tongue, known as Warlpiri, is spoken only by approximately 4,000 speakers and is currently endangered. One subgroup of Warlpiri, however, has recently created a new version of the language by combining elements from English, Warlpiri, and Kriol (another local dialect). The new "mixed" language is known as Light Warlpiri. Their interactions with English speaking communities in the 70s and 80s led to the introduction of English into their daily lives. The language is so young, in fact, that the oldest speakers of it are only 35.


Created in 1887, Esperanto is the world's most spoken constructed language with approximately 2,000,000 active and fluent speakers. It was created by physician and linguist L.L. Zamenhof to be an easy-to-learn and politically neutral language. It's most spoken in Europe, East Asia, and South America. The first book of Esperanto grammar was published in 1887 and the first world congress of Esperanto speakers occurred in 1905, but it wasn't until the 1920s that the language took off in the hands of anarchists looking to break away from nationalistic ideals. The Nazis, the Soviets, and the powerbrokers in Francoist Spain persecuted speakers of the language during the 20th century. While Esperanto isn't an official language in any country, its popularity has grown much since the mid-20th century.


A mixture of Dutch, German, English, Portuguese, French, Bantu, Khoisan, and Malay, Afrikaans is one of the official languages of South Africa and is spoken also in Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. A daughter language of Dutch, the language evolved in South Africa during the 18th century. It was referred to as a "kitchen language" or "kitchen Dutch" as late as the mid-20th century. It wasn't until 1856 that the language began appearing in published text. By 1925, Afrikaans was dubbed a real language by the government of South Africa. Today, around seven million native speakers speak the language.


Lingala wasn't even a language until the 19th century, before Congo was a free state. As the 19th century closed, the Belgian forces that conquered the area began simplifying the local languages for commercial purposes. French, Portuguese, English, and Dutch influence the language. It served as a lingua franca, or bridge language, for members of the local armed forces who would otherwise speak varying languages or dialects. Most speakers of the language reside in central Africa, most notably in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo, Angola, and the Central African Republic. Lingala first appeared in print in 1903.


With only 100 speakers and few children learning the language, Gooniyandi is another tongue of Australian Aboriginals. It wasn't until 1982 that William McGregor, who wrote a text on the functional grammar of Gooniyandi, chronicled the language in text. The speakers constructed a Latin-based alphabet in 1984, making it one of the youngest written languages in the world.

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