Many languages, one world

An initiative called Many Languages, One World has been launched by the UNO to highlight the importance of linguistic diversity – college and University students are asked to write an essay in one of the UN’s six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) on the role of Multilingualism in a globalized world.


The initiative focuses on two main vectors favoured by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, namely Youth and Multiculturalism and the contest, an essay in one of the UN’s six official languages on the theme of multilingualism in a globalized world, aims to support education through the continued study of these six languages. It is part of a wider initiative to promote common understanding and common values through communication.

The students participating in this activity will not be writing in their native tongue: those writing the essay have to have a native language different from the one they are writing in and the latter must be different from the main language at use in the school the student attends. The essays will be judged in June 2014.

Protecting the world’s languages

Around 230 languages have become extinct since 1950, these languages representing unique cultures and holding the secrets of the history of a people. The UNESCO Language Atlas aims to support languages at risk. The latest edition of the Atlas dates from 2010 and is available in English, French and Spanish. It shows around 2,500 languages of the existing 6,000 and lends credence to the generally accepted notion that around half of these – namely, 3,000 – are endangered.

The Atlas categorises languages as safe (57% of the total, spoken by all generations; intergenerational transmission is uninterrupted); vulnerable (10% – most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home); definitely endangered (11% – children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home); severely endangered (9% – spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves); critically endangered (10% – the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently); extinct (no speakers alive).

India, USA, Brazil – the top three in terms of endangered languages

Around 200 languages worldwide are spoken by fewer than ten people, these being part of the 43% of the world’s languages that are endangered. Top of the list is India, with 198 endangered languages, followed by the United States of America (191) and Brazil (190).

As rural populations flock to the city, in many cases they leave their roots behind and the tongue of their forefathers is relegated to secondary position. The search for survival, the quest for material comfort, dictates the death-knell for centuries or thousands of years of tradition, culture and history.

There are now 2,473 languages in danger, according to UNESCO, which classifies the loss of a language as follows: “A lost language is not only lost cultural heritage, it is also lost traditional knowledge, such as precious knowledge about medicinal herbs or local species or environment. Thus, with each language that disappears, humanity is impoverished in manifold ways”.

The example of Ned Maddrell and the Manx Language

Ned Maddrell was from the Isle of Man in the British Isles. When he discovered he was the last surviving speaker of Manx, he took part in recording all he knew for later generations to be able to revive this ancient Celtic tongue. Other examples of revived languages are Livonian (Latvia), Yahgan (Chile), Hebrew (Israel), Welsh (Wales), Breton (France), Catalan (Spain), Andoa (Ecuador).

The Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru is actively engaged in projects in Africa to catalogue not only languages, but also traditions, gastronomy, dances, rituals and so on, to make sure that cultural expressions are not lost for good.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey


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