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Losing nature and culture: losses in biodiveristy and languages


In a previous post I wrote about the parallels between the loss of languages and the loss of biodiversity. I was interested in the external forces that drove both biodiversity and languages to the margins, often resulting in extinction. A recent article discusses the findings of a new report which establishes a direct link between the loss of biodiversity and loss of languages. The authors of the report claim that “the steep declines in both languages and nature mirror each other”, and “linguistic diversity is declining as fast as biodiversity – about 30% since 1970.”

The article notes that there is also a link between the places of high biological diversity and high linguistic diversity such as tropical forests. While it is not clear why this is so, it is assumed that the environment plays a crucial role in supporting cultural and linguistic diversity as much as biodiversity. Interestingly, the report found that the greatest loss of languages since the 1970s is in parts of the world with the greatest decline in biodiversity, mainly in tropical regions. As habitats are destroyed, people in those areas are often forced to migrate to other places. Over time and generations this may result in the adoption of the dominant languages of those areas and the steady decline in the use of their own languages, which are often minority indigenous languages.

The report authors say that to save nature it is crucial to understand its links to the cultures and languages indigenous to those regions. Whole systems of knowledge and understanding of the local environment and its ecosystems (that are pivotal to the conservation of these environments) may be lost as local cultures and languages face extinction. The report also notes that these losses in languages and biodiversity are “a result of human population growth, increasing consumption and economic globalisation”, which are essentially homogenising the world and its communities.

The report and the article highlight just how intricately our cultures, societies and understandings of the world are linked to the environment and nature. Any changes and losses in biodiversity significantly impact us and how we live in the world. This is a reminder of how much nature supports and nurtures humans, our cultures and societies.


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