e to this academic detective story.
Yet researchers have hardly started sifting through this tantalising evidence, and language extinction is washing it away right in front of us.
And worst of all, most people have no idea that there is this fantastic profusion of cultures across our world, let alone that they are in danger of extinction. Even just more people learning that there are still five thousand living languages in the world today (most of us would answer five hundred or fifty) is already a huge help.
We English-speakers hardly notice English - it's like air for us. But every other language is also an atmosphere for an entire cultural world, and each of these worlds has people whose home it is. Each language encapsulates a unique way of talking and thinking about life. Just try some time in a foreign prison, being forced to cope in another language, and you'll realise how much your own language is your identity. That's true for everyone.
One of the most basic.
Dozens of millions of people worldwide suffer persecution from national governments for speaking their mother tongue - in their own motherland.
Many 'ethnic' feuds puzzling to outsiders had as their basis an attempt to destroy a linguistic community. Would the Northern Ireland dispute be quite so bitter if we English had not so nearly stamped out the Irish Gaelic language, for example? Almost nowhere in the world does a language community as small as the few thousand Rheto-Romanic speakers - the fourth official language of Switzerland - get the protection of a national government. Next time you see some Swiss Francs, check both sides of the banknote.
But outside exceptional countries like Switzerland or the Netherlands, speakers of non-official languages have a much less protected experience.
Speakers of minority languages are often seen as a