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There are roughly 7,000 languages in the world, but 78 percent of the world’s population only speaks the 85 largest languages. Thousands of languages are on the edge of disappearing.

After dinner Nimasow disappeared for a moment and came back with a soiled white cotton cloth, which he unfolded by the flickering light of the cooking fire. Inside was a small collection of ritual items: a tiger’s jaw, a python’s jaw, the sharp-toothed mandible of a river fish, a quartz crystal, and other objects of a shaman’s sachet. This sachet had belonged to Nimasow’s father until his death in 1991.

‘My father was a priest,’ Nimasow said, ‘and his father was a priest.’ And now? I asked. Was he next in line? Nimasow stared at the talismans and shook his head. He had the kit, but he didn’t know the chants; his father had died before passing them on. Without the words, there was no way to bring the artifacts’ power to life.

“Vanishing Voices.” — Russ Rymer, National Geographic

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