Wednesday, 03 April 2013 11:26

World Atlas of Languages

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A lot of languages around the world are in danger of extinction. UNESCO has just released their Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. It is estimated that, if nothing is done, half of the world’s languages will be extinct by the end of this century. 

Loosing a language also means loosing the cultural wealth and ancestral knowledge embedded in the language. Especially indigenous peoples around the world have a lot of their identity, traditions and culture embedded within their native language. In the world today, migration and urbanization pressure the traditional ways of life because there often is a strong pressure to speak the more dominant languages in order for full civic participation.

The atlas only shows languages that are endangered. Within this criteria there are 5 degrees of endangerment: vulnerable, definitely endangered, severely endangered, critically endangered and extinct.

(See atlas here)

Here you can see that there are a lot of languages in the Arctic region that are endangered. For example, North Saami is definitely endangered, Gwich’in is listed as severely endangered and Aleut is critically endangered.

The best way to keep a language from extinction is to create favorable conditions for its speakers. This could, for example, be education in a given mother tongue language, or collaboration between community members and linguistics to develop a writing system. The most important aspect according to UNESCO, is the attitude of the speaker community toward its own language, it is essential to create a social and political environment that encourages multilingualism and respect for minority languages so that speaking such a language is an asset rather than a liability.



Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat
Fram Centre, Postboks 6606 Langnes, NO-9296 Tromsø, Norway