In May 2010, Terralingua participated in the 12th International Congress of Ethnobiology held in Tofino, British Columbia, Canada. One of the sessions we organized there, titled “How Many People Speak Your Language? Data and Indicators of Linguistic Diversity and Language Vitality”, included a presentation on the ILD given by Terralingua researchers David Harmon and Jonathan Loh. Other session participants were Luisa Maffi (Terralingua), Gary Simons (Ethnologue), Melissa Grimes (UNESCO), and Alejandro Argumedo (IIFB/Tebtebba).
Session Abstract: In 1988, the Declaration of Belém first affirmed the “inextricable link” between biodiversity and cultural diversity. In 1996, building on that pioneering recognition, Terralingua began exploring and researching the idea that the diversity of life is biological, cultural, and linguistic diversity—all inextricably interlinked through the nature-based and place-based values, beliefs, knowledge systems and practices of Indigenous and local communities the world over. The focus on linguistic diversity as a component of biocultural diversity turned the spotlight on the fact that language vitality is a key requirement for cultural resilience and the maintenance of the “inextricable link” between people and the environment; yet, the diversity and vitality of the world’s languages is increasingly under threat owing to the same forces that are eroding biological and cultural diversity.
Over the past decade, it has become increasingly apparent that policy in support of biological and cultural diversity must include support for language vitality and linguistic diversity. Some international policy processes, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 2010 Targets for halting the loss of biodiversity, call for the development of indicators of the “status and trends of linguistic diversity and numbers of speakers of indigenous languages”, taken as a proxy for the status and trends of indigenous and traditional knowledge relevant for the conservation of biodiversity. Indigenous Peoples’ organizations also have begun to develop their own sets of indicators to assess and monitor their cultural resilience in the face of global environmental, social, and economic challenges.
Systematic information about linguistic diversity and language vitality is crucial in such contexts, yet until recently no reliable tools existed for assessing the status and trends of the world’s languages. Several institutions including Ethnologue, UNESCO and Terralingua have developed indicators and databases to monitor and record the status and trends in the numbers of speakers of the world’s languages. This session will discuss the indicators, data sources, their reliability, applications, users needs and what more needs to be done in order to provide robust information on trends in language demographics worldwide. The session will also offer an opportunity for discussion of and comparison with related efforts that are taking place among indigenous peoples’ organizations, international agencies and linguists, with a goal to establish common ground for greater effectiveness in both data gathering and policy analysis.
For more information on the congress, go to http://www.tbgf.org/ice/home.