Biodiversity isn't the only thing that is threatened nowadays — it seems that linguistic diversity (and by extension, cultural diversity) is also deteriorating as our world becomes increasingly mono-lingual and mono-cultural. Of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, experts say that nearly half are endangered and may disappear within a generation. Every two weeks, another language disappears, consigning equally valuable cultural perspectives and histories to silence.
To help UNESCO raise awareness about the importance of multilingualism and preserving linguistic diversity, DESIGN 21, an online "social design network" is holding a competition for the official poster of Mother Language Day, on February 21st, 2009. The top prize is $3,000 and an opportunity to attend Mother Language Day at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. More after the fold:
Founded by Felissimo and UNESCO to inspire and promote design for the greater good, DESIGN 21 has already held several creative competitions this year, ranging from environmental to poverty awareness campaigns.
So why is linguistic diversity so important? "Languages lie at the heart of all social, economic and cultural life," says UNESCO Director-General KoÃ¯chiro Matsuura. "They matter when we want to promote cultural diversity, and fight illiteracy, and they matter for quality education, including teaching in the mother language in the first years of schooling."
But what comes most strongly in mind is the fact that preserving precarious languages is not just about educating future generations, but also about preserving the human potential for creativity and for expressing other valid realities, as ethnographer Wade Davis so eloquently describes in this TED Talks video:
Together the myriad cultures of the world make up a web of cultural life that envelops the planet and is as important to the well-being of the planet just as a biological web of life, which we know as the biosphere. You might think of this cultural web as an "ethnosphere" — the sum total of all thoughts, dreams, myths, ideas inspirations and intuitions brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness.
[..] And just as the biosphere is being eroded, so is the ethnosphere, and at a far greater rate with one of the greatest indicators being language loss Now, language is not just a body of vocabulary or a set of grammatical rules — language is a flash of the human spirit. It's the vehicle through which the soul of each particular culture comes into the material world. Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind, a watershed of thought and an ecosystem of spiritual possibilities.
Inspired? Deadline for entries is January 19, 2009.