UNESCO launched the electronic version of the new edition of its Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger on 19 February. According to the UNESCO website, “the Atlas, presented on the eve of International Mother Language Day (February 21), enables searches according to several criteria, and ranks the 2,500 endangered languages that are listed according to five different levels of vitality: unsafe, definitely endangered, severely endangered, critically endangered, and extinct.
Some of the data are especially worrying: out of the approximately 6,000 existing languages in the world, more than 200 have become extinct during the last three generations, 538 are critically endangered, 502 severely endangered, 632 definitely endangered, and 607 unsafe […].”
As UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura stressed, “The death of a language leads to the disappearance of many forms of intangible cultural heritage, especially the invaluable heritage of traditions and oral expressions of the community that spoke it—from poems and legends to proverbs and jokes. The loss of languages is also detrimental to humanity’s grasp of biodiversity, as they transmit much knowledge about the nature and the universe.”
Furthermore, according to the site, thanks to favorable linguistic policies, there has been an increase in the number of speakers of several indigenous languages like Central Aymara and Quechua in Peru, Maori in New Zealand, Guarani in Paraguay, and several languages in Canada, the United States, and Mexico.”
The electronic version of the Atlas is available on the UNESCO website. The paper version of the Atlas will be published next month.