Protecting Linguistic Diversity

There may be more than 100 million natural species in the world, yet as many as 10,000 become extinct each year. There are more than 6,900 languages in the world, excluding dialects. Yet one dies every two weeks. The same forces which threaten biodiversity menace the world’s rich linguistic diversity, reveals recent research funded by the AHRC.

Working with non-profit Conservation International, Professor Suzanne Romaine of Oxford University and colleagues mapped the overlap between species and languages. Their startling finding was that 70% of the world’s languages are concentrated in 24% of the world’s surface. That same 24% includes the places most ravaged by political and economic turmoil in the last 50 years. It also contains a majority of the world’s species. Overall, nearly 4,800 languages are found in regions containing high biodiversity. These are the regions which people fight over; these are the regions at risk of losing both species and languages.

Species are concentrated in biodiversity “hotspots”: nearly half of all vertebrate animals and half the plants are found in 34 areas making up less than 3 per cent of the earth’s surface. Nearly half the languages spoken on earth (3174) are currently spoken in these same areas, home to about one-third of the world’s population. There are such riches here, but over 90 percent of the major armed conflicts between 1950 and 2000 occurred within countries containing biodiversity hotspots. More than 80 percent took place directly within the hotspots themselves.

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