Sabah's ethnic languages are facing extinction due to the dwindling number of speakers, said Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Bolkiah Ismail.
He cited the Bongi tribe in Pulau Banggi, off Kudat as the most in danger of extinction.
He said that the survival of a language depend on its number of speakers and not the ethnic population.
"In this globalisation era, language extinction and the conquest of a dominant language is a global phenomenon."
To ensure the survival of an ethnic language, we are left with no choice other than to ensure its continued usage in family and society environment," he said at the launching of the "Ethnik" magazine here.
He said that in Sabah, the two largest ethnic groups of Kadazandusun and Bajau were faced with declining number of speakers, currently numbering 300,000 and 200,000 respectively.
He said the dwindling number of native language speakers could also threaten one of Sabah's unique attractions, namely its rich cultural heritage with 32 ethnic groups and more than 100 dialects.
Sabah Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) director Zubaidi Abas said ethnic languages played an important role especially in projecting the identity of the speakers.He said that it was for this reason that the DBP took the initiative to publish the Ethnik magazine three times a year to provide space for writers to write about their dialects.
"Although ethnic dialects are still being used in the state, there are signs that their survival needs serious attention from all," he said.
One of the factors contributing to the dwindling number of native speakers was the implementation of the national language policy, he said.However, Zubaidi said, the people should not think of the national language as a threat to the native languages.
"The native languages should be defended as they enriched the country's cultural heritage and contributed to the effort to develop the national language.
"While we strive to modernise the national language, we are not sidelining the native languages," he said.-- BERNAMA