Protect our planet's linguistic diversity, say Christian communicators

By agency reporter
25 Feb 2008

The World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) has called for a concerted international campaign to protect linguistic diversity and to promote multilingualism, as local cultures are threatened by narrow globalism

Languages are powerful instruments for preserving the culture and heritage of the many different peoples that inhabit the earth, says WACC. Rescuing endangered languages keeps traditions alive and inspires knowledge about, and respect for, the past, present and future. But languages are in danger.

Once there were some 8,000 distinct languages. Today, the organisation points out, very few people speak most of the 6,000 remaining known languages. Half have fewer than 10,000 speakers and a quarter have fewer than 1,000. Communities of language speakers face a race against time to document and protect those that are left.

In January 2008, Marie Smith Jones, believed to be the last native speaker of the Eyak language in Alaska, died. Fortunately, before her death, she helped the University of Alaska compile an Eyak dictionary so that future generations might have the chance to revive it.

According to Cultural Survival (http://www.culturalsurvival.org/home.cfm), "If we don't act now, in the next 10 years, 70 Native American languages will disappear. Ten years after that, only about 20 of the original 300 will remain... A single car accident could wipe out 10,000 years of cultural continuity."

In Mexico the government has published its first catalogue of national indigenous languages. The aim is to help preserve and develop indigenous culture in a country where some 300 language variations are spoken.

This step is in line with the recent UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that "Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures."

Such actions are also implicit in the UN Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, says WACC.

Yet many indigenous peoples lack the resources and expertise to run effective programmes to revitalize their languages, especially when many of the smallest language communities are the ones with the fewest living speakers. WACC is supporting initiatives such as Asociana, in Northern Argentina, which has set up a community radio station to broadcast in a language spoken by some 45,000 native people.

Critically endangered language communities urgently need help to pass on the birthright of language to their children. To do so, political will and public awareness are needed to provide funds and technical support, and to create resource centres for language teachers.

"There is no such thing as an ugly language," wrote novelist Elias Canetti. "Today I hear every language as if it were the only one, and when I hear of one that is dying, it overwhelms me as though it were the death of the earth."

The World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) "promotes communication for social change. It believes that communication is a basic human right that defines peopleâ's common humanity, strengthens cultures, enables participation, creates community, and challenges tyranny and oppression."

WACC's key concerns are media diversity, equal and affordable access to communication and knowledge, media and gender justice, and the relationship between communication and power.

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