Culture Loss

While many of us are aware of accelerating plant and animal extinctions, few realize that human cultures are disappearing at an even faster pace. Anthropologists predict that half of the world’s spoken languages will disappear within our lifetime; that means one language lost every two weeks! Gone with the languages are stories, songs and ways of life, which contain tremendous knowledge of nature, agriculture and medicinal use of local plants beneficial for all of us.

The main threat to our ethnosphere is pressure to conform to modernity and the impacts of development on traditional cultures and their land. For one of many examples – Nigeria’s Ogoni people’s livelihoods are in danger, as the soils in their area are poisoned by waste from the petroleum industry.

But it is not all bad news. For example, the Sťáťimc culture in B.C. Canada is protected through establishment of heritage learning and tourist centers; linguists in universities around the world are collecting traditional stories and compiling dictionaries of indigenous languages. Indigenous people are preserving and re-learning their cultural practices and languages. 

It is in our power to support culture preservation and give endangered peoples a voice in formulating development policies which must respect their territorial and human rights

Why should we care?

  • Being aware about other people’s cultures helps us understand and co-exist in respect with other ways of being in the world.
  • Indigenous cultures carry invaluable knowledge about nature which, can benefits us and our planet. If lost, we might lose many secrets of sustainable living as well as traditions, languages and music.
  • When a language disappears, we also lose memory of histories and cultures, resources and knowledge for combating environmental threats, while some people will lose their already weakened voices.
  • Every voice deserves to be heard and considered. Everyone’s humanity should be respected regardless of how it may or may not meet modern expectations.

Transportation Fast Facts

  • In total, roughly about 7,000 languages are spoken in the world today, but it is predicted that by the next century nearly half of them will disappear because native tongues are being abandoned in favor of dominant languages such as English, Spanish, Chinese and Hindi.
  • Around 96% of the world’s languages are spoken by only 4% of the world’s population.
  • In the Amazon region alone, over 90 tribes are thought to have disappeared during the 20th century; thousands were wiped out by diseases brought in by western settlers.
  • Awa people of Brazil’s Amazon Forest are currently one of the most threatened cultures in the world. With loggers destroying the forest, the Awa people are forced to leave their once harmonious home with nowhere to go.
  • The culture of Yugur, an ethnic minority in northwest China, is on the verge of extinction. Out of 11,000 Yugur people, fewer than 100 (mostly seniors) maintain ethnic traditions while younger generations are seduced away by modern influences.
  • To learn more about endangered languages, check UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger