Endangered languages are particularly concentrated in parts of the world that are at risk of being adversely affected by climate crisis, says the director of the Strathy language unit at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

“When climate change comes in, it disrupts communities even more,” says Riehl.
“When climate change comes in, it disrupts communities even more,” says Riehl. (AFP)

The climate crisis is not only threatening ecosystems and life in general but also endangering the indigenous languages, according to linguists, says aarticle in the Guardian.

The director of the Strathy language unit at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Anastasia Riehl, tells the newspaper that “Languages are already vulnerable and endangered.” She bases her statement on globalisation and migration, with Indigenous communities moving to areas where their language is not spoken or valued.

Riehl says, “it seems particularly cruel,” that endangered languages are particularly concentrated in parts of the world that are at risk of being adversely affected by climate crisis.

She gives the example of the small South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu which has the highest density of languages on the planet. Vanuatu only measures 12,189 sq km but is home to 110 languages. Vanuatu, according to Riehl, is also one of the countries most at risk of sea level rise.

“Many small linguistic communities are on islands and coastlines vulnerable to hurricanes and sea level rise,” she says. Others are prone to migration as temperature increases affect traditional farming and fishing practices. 

“When climate change comes in, it disrupts communities even more,” says Riehl. “It has a multiplier effect, the final nail in the coffin.”

Vectors of knowledge

The President of the General Assembly of the United Nations marked the launch of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages in December.

Csaba Korosi remarked that while Indigenous Peoples, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “are guardians to almost 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity… every two weeks, an indigenous language dies.”

Saying this should cause concern for world nations, Korosi quoted the American linguist Michael Krauss, who made a striking comparison: “When … a language goes extinct, it’s like dropping a bomb on the Louvre”.

Korosi pointed out that ”languages are vectors of knowledge and carriers of identity. Knowledge that is invaluable, not only to the communities it belongs to, but to the whole of humanity.”

He also warned that “With each indigenous language that goes extinct, so too goes the thought: the culture, tradition and knowledge it bears. That matters because we are in dire need of a radical transformation in the way we relate to our environment.”

“Through indigenous languages,” Korosi said, “we can all learn from indigenous peoples.”

The United Nations warns that “Optimistic estimates suggest that at least 50 percent of today’s spoken languages will be extinct or seriously endangered by 2100.”

However, the situation may even be worse than that: “More pessimistic, but also realistic estimates claim that 90-95 percent will become extinct or seriously endangered by the end of this century." According to the UN, “most of these languages are Indigenous languages.”

That is why the UN’s goal to protect indigenous communities’ identities including their languages is commendable. The International Decade of Indigenous Languages aims to preserve languages because it is “not only important for them, but for all humanity,” Korosi declared.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies