On International Mother Language Day, it's important to highlight the fact that on top of destroying biodiversity and our natural environment, the climate crisis is also impacting traditional cultures and indigenous languages. In this article, for The Guardian Karen McVeigh states the shocking fact that every 40 days, a language dies, and the climate crisis is "the final nail in the coffin" for communities that have already suffered from colonialism and the persecution it has created. If nothing is done to protect them, scientists estimate that half of all the 7,000 languages currently spoken in the world will be extinct by the end of the century.
The (Great) Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder
But how is the climate crisis having an impact on languages you may wonder?
To sum it up, linguistic communities are often the most vulnerable to the effect of the climate crisis and as they see their environment being destroyed, they are forced to migrate. “Many small linguistic communities are on islands and coastlines vulnerable to hurricanes and sea level rise,” says Anastasia Riehl, the director of the Strathy language unit at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario to The Guardian. Some others see their traditional activity such as farming or fishing being threatened by rising temperatures and droughts and are prompt to migrate. And when they migrate, then the language is often lost as the community scatters.
Disasters accounted for 23.7m internal displacements in 2021, up from 18.8m in 2018. Estimates show that 1.2 billion people could be displaced globally by 2050 due to climate change. In the last decade, Asia and the Pacific were the regions most affected by displacement worldwide. The article gives the example of Vanuatu, a tiny Pacific island with the highest density of languages on the planet who is one of the most vulnerable places on Earth.
When a language disappears, a culture disappears and more than ever it is crucial to protect these minority languages and initiatives such as the UN International Decade of Indigenous Languages or the work of the Language Conservancy have to be supported.
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun (Published 2020)
New research suggests climate change will cause humans to move in unprecedented numbers. The Times Magazine partnered with ProPublica and data scientists to understand how.
Lost for words: fears of ‘catastrophic’ language loss due to rising seas
Climate crisis could be ‘final nail in the coffin’ for half of all surviving languages, say linguists, as coastal communities are forced to migrate