The number of native Japanese speakers is approximately 130,000,000 based on the population of Japan. It is the 9th largest language in the world. (Chinese is the first and English is the second.) But, Japanese is spoken only in Japan. So, I don’t know if it is a useful language.
I read an article in National Geographic the other day, and was very surprised to read, “One language disappears every two weeks from the planet.”
Today there are 6000-7000 languages in the world, but half of them will disappear in 100 years. UNESCO announced that about 2500 languages are in danger. 583 are critically endangered. One of them is Ainu, whose speakers live in Hokkaido. Surprisingly, no more than 15 people can speak it.
There are seven other languages in Japan which are categorized as either “severely endangered” or “definitely endangered”.
While it is embarrassing, I did not know there were any non-standard languages in Japan besides the Ainu and Okinawa languages. However, if you think in terms of geography, in the past people rarely came and went from islands, so it was natural for them to be able to develop their own original language.
But, the law of the jungle works in the language world, too. As countries unite, the main language replaces others. If you speak Japanese in Japan, it is easy to live there. If you look at the rest of the world, English, Chinese, Hindi, etc. work the same. In fact, there becomes no need to speak minor languages.
Air travel and the internet have become prevalent in our contemporary life. This makes the world smaller and smaller. Also, as urbanization continues, minor cultures become similar to main cultures. We shouldn’t forget that there are important things disappearing behind those changes.
By the way, I went to Disneyland with my family when I was in elementary school. One of the attractions in Disneyland is called “It’s a small world”. Visitors go around the attraction by boat. There were many dolls in ethnic dresses lined everywhere. They sing “It’s a small world”. A world peace was created there.
It was Tokyo Disneyland, so of course that song was in Japanese. The dolls sang “sekai wa semai” (The world is small). I remember feeling strange about this Japanese even though I was still young. I was wondering, “Is the world small? The world is huge, so isn’t it interesting? Shouldn’t the places I have never seen or never been to be in the huge world?”
Moreover, “semai” usually is used with a negative connotation. For example, “uchi ga semai.” (The house is small.) or “michi ga semai.” (The road is narrow.) Therefore, I found it strange that the dolls were singing cheerfully “sekai wa semai.”
The smaller the world becomes, the more difficult it is to keep one’s own culture. It may be inevitable.