Un Unveils Digital Atlas Of Dying Languages

02.19.09 | FL News Team

Nearly half of humanity's languages are dying, the victims of a rapidly modernizing world. While the United Nations can't save them all, it is at least trying to track their disappearance.

The UN's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is issuing a new edition of a unique atlas that marks the geography of vanishing mother tongues. First published in 1996, the atlas is going digital with an online interactive map. People can track the 25-hundred languages and dialects most in danger of extinction.

When a language dies, it takes with it what the UN terms "the unique cultural wisdom of a people." Some six-thousand languages still exist, but it is hard to find most of them in constant use. Some 90-percent of Internet traffic is conducted in only a dozen languages, for example.

The UN considers a language to be endangered when it is no longer being taught widely to children. When 30-percent of a population's children grow up with no knowledge of their parents'  tongue, the language may have a limited future. The Atlas goes live online today at portal.unesco.org.