Terralingua organized the workshop “The World’s Cultural Diversity: New Measurements Show What’s Happening and Why It’s Important to Conservationists” at the 4th World Conservation Congress (WCC) held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 2008. David Harmon and Jonathan Loh presented the initial results of Terralingua’s Index of Linguistic Diversity, Stanford Zent introduced Terralingua’s Vitality Index of Traditional Environmental Knowledge, and Margaret Florey discussed her work on the Linguistic Vitality Index.
Session Abstract: Conservationists are well aware of the global biodiversity extinction crisis. What many may not know is that the world’s cultural diversity is just as imperiled, if not more so. Take as an indicator the state of the world’s languages: at least half of the roughly 7,000 languages still spoken today may become extinct by 2100. The result would be a massive loss of the diversity of cultural values, beliefs, and knowledge, including traditional environmental knowledge (TEK), which is embedded in languages at risk. Many international organizations now recognize that biological and cultural diversity are closely linked, and even interdependent (a concept called “biocultural diversity”). For example, the CBD has made trends in numbers of speakers of indigenous languages one of the 2010 Biodiversity Target indicators, UNEP’s 2007 GEO-4 Report defines biodiversity as including human cultural diversity, and IUCN has identified cultural diversity as one of six key issues in its 2008–2012 program. Using a “learning meeting” audience-interactive format, this workshop will explore three new tools that measure the status of and trends in cultural diversity on the global and local levels. The Index of Linguistic Diversity (ILD) tracks changes over time in the number of speakers of the world’s languages, providing the first-ever time-series data on global language demographics. The Vitality Index of Traditional Environmental Knowledge (VITEK) provides locally appropriate, globally applicable quantitative measures of trends in retention or loss of TEK over time. The Linguistic Vitality Test (LVT) analyzes both current linguistic vitality and the transmission of linguistic knowledge from older to younger generations. Together, these indicators permit standardized assessments of cultural diversity and vitality based on empirical data. Participants will have an opportunity to discuss key points with each other and the presenters, and will take home a CD of resources that explore these ideas in depth.
This event attracted the attention of the WCC press. A report on the session appeared in an article titled “Globalisation is killing languages” in the Congress bulletin Terraviva. Download Terraviva (.pdf)