Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Each language is a unique world of thought

Languages are not only tools of communication, they also reflect a view of the world. Languages are vehicles of value systems and cultural expressions and are an essential component of the living heritage of humanity. Yet, many of them are in danger of disappearing.

UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger tries to raise awareness on language endangerment.

The editor in chief is the Australian linguist Christopher Moseley. According to him, we have to care about language preservation "because each language is a uniquely structured world of thought, with its own associations, metaphors, ways of thinking, vocabulary, sound system and grammar – all working together in a marvellous architectural structure, which is so fragile that it could easily be lost forever."

In Australia, for instance, there are active and successful campaigns to revive the use of languages that were regarded as dead for generations, but turned out to be only ‘sleeping’. In New Zealand, the Maori language has been rescued from near oblivion through the scheme of ‘language nests’ – nurseries where the language is passed on to young children.

This third edition of the Atlas is new in at least three important ways. Firstly and most obviously, it is being published in two different formats: an on-line version as well as a printed version. The on-line version is an important new development, and is based on Google Earth maps, with the location of each endangered language, no matter how small, pinpointed as exactly as possible on the maps, which can be filtered to any desired scale and level of detail.

Secondly, for the first time the Atlas is giving a comprehensive coverage of the whole world. The previous two editions gave only a sample from some continents of the state of threatened languages, but this time we have been careful to cover every language, and, as before, to show the level of endangerment, from “Unsafe” down to “Moribund” with a system of colour coding. The UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, freely available, aims to provide speaker communities, policy-makers and the general public with state-of-the-art knowledge, continually updated by a growing network of experts and community members. The online edition of the Atlas includes all of the information in the print edition and much more.

And thirdly, the Atlas is available in three languages: English, French and Spanish, with possibly more translations to come later.

Below is the Table of Contents:

Preface, p. 4
Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

Introduction, p. 8
Christopher Moseley

Cartographic representation of the world’s endangered languages, p. 14
Christopher Moseley

Sub-Saharan Africa, p. 20
Matthias Brenzinger and Herman Batibo

North Africa and the Middle East, p. 26
Salem Mezhoud and Yamina El Kirat El Allame

Europe and the Caucasus, p. 32
Tapani Salminen

Western and Central Asia, p. 43
Hakim Elnazarov

North-east Asia, p. 48
Juha Janhunen

India and the Himalayan chain, p. 59
Stuart Blackburn and Jean Robert Opgenort

South-East Asia, southern China and Taiwan (China), p. 64
David Bradley

Greater Pacific area, p. 74
Darrell T. Tryon

Australia, p. 79
Michael Walsh

South America, p. 86
Willem Adelaar

South America: Andean region, p. 95
Marleen Haboud

Mexico and Central America, p. 103
Yolanda Lastra

United States of America, p. 108
Chris Rogers, Naomi Palosaari and Lyle Campbell

Canada and Greenland, p. 113
Mary Jane Norris

Contributors, p. 122

Bibliography, p. 125

Index, p. 137

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