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  Figure 9. Waveforms (top) and spectrograms (bottom) of Ju|'hoan words. A: plain alveolar click [!ābē], “to be crinkled” (word 3). B: plain alveolar click [!āá], “to run” (word 4). C: prenasalized alveolar click [ŋ!áā], “type of acacia” (word 7). D: voiced alveolar click [ɡ!āà], “to dry something” (word 8). Available at from file Word numbers and speaker number reference the items in the original recordings.
  and how more than 75% of the world’s languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers, and of those, many are in danger of losing all of their speakers within a generation. Many of these endangered languages exist in the most densely populated areas illustrated in Figure 1B. One resource calculates that over 40% of the world’s languages are endangered (Eberhard et al., 2019). That is nearly 3,000 of the world’s 7,000 languages that will likely not be spoken over the next 1-2 generations. Languages become endan- gered when future generations are not actively learning the community’s language but are learning a more dominant language. The loss of language can play out in many dif- ferent ways. An article in Acoustics Today by Whalen et al. (2011) gives an excellent example of some of the docu- mentation of two endangered languages. The article also discusses in detail the importance of phonetic documenta- tion from a language endangerment perspective.
As seen in the preceding examples, there is great diver- sity in the sounds of the world’s languages, and much
can be learned from these sounds. The investigation of the acoustic characteristics of the world’s languages is an important part of understanding speech communica- tion. Thus far, we have not mentioned the perception side of speech communication, and just as it is important to understand the acoustic characteristics of speech produc- tion across the world’s languages, it is also important to understand how listeners of these languages make use of acoustic cues to comprehend language. We have already argued that the literature describing the acoustics of the world’s languages is lacking; this lack of literature is even more extreme in the domain of speech perception for underdocumented languages. There are many speech sounds that vary radically from sounds in the well- documented languages, and most have not been studied acoustically. Similarly, a language may have a set of well- described sounds in its inventory but may combine them in a way that is not well documented; understanding how sounds interact with each and their acoustic character- istics is an important basic step to really understanding speech communication.
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