endangered cultures

Phil Borges quoting MIT linguist Ken Hale:

” Of the 6000 languages spoken on earth right now, 3000 are not spoken by the children. So, in one generation we are going to halve our cultural diversity. Every two weeks an elder goes to the grave, carrying the last spoken word of that culture. So an entire philosophy – a body of knowledge about the natural world that had been empirically gleaned over centuries – goes away. And this happens every two weeks.”

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Published in: on September 2, 2010 at 4:50 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. The acceleration rate of minority languages and cultures is actually accelerating, it’s now every 10 days that a culture dies. This is at least twice as fast as the extinction rate of biospecies.

    Within one generation, more than half of the cultural diversity of humanity will be lost into an urban monoculture. This tragedy will rob us of our living resource of sustainable alternatives, cooperative societal models and indigenous environmental knowledge, to the greed of competition that consumes our planet.

    Western societies promote competition, whether in school, between corporations or nations. Competitive values and role models which drive the economies of scale and the ever-increasing power gap between rich and poor are simply unsustainable. It is cruelly ironic that those who know of alternative solutions are the most vulnerable to the symptoms of this greed – denial of human rights, land appropriation and now global warming and financial crisis.

    More than half the planet’s cultures are enacted by less than 5% of its population. These 370M indigenous peoples are the most marginalized and dispossessed. Already one living language dies every ten days. In 50 years over one half the world’s languages will be gone forever, along with half of humanity’s resource of alternative world views, values and belief systems, artistry, knowledge of fragile bio-environments and cooperative social models. This cultural diversity that sparks human creativity is disappearing much faster than the planet’s diversity of plants and animals. Archival projects do not help – cultures are lived and evolve, cannot be ‘preserved’. Isolated local actions are insufficient against this global extinction.

    Humanity’s challenge is therefore how to moderate forces driven by a single bottom-line, to celebrate the right to be different and to learn from ancient wisdom in a society of multiculturalism rather than assimilation. The narratives of education must lead a fundamental shift in values. Developments must be evaluated, not just in terms of their return on investment, or even social return, but also their cultural impact. The Internet and current computer tools have been biased against minority language content, let alone oral cultures, implicitly carrying a message of colonial superiority.

    ‘Living Cultural Storybases’ (LCS) is an initiative to nurture the oral heritage of minority cultures in the digital world (see http://www.storybases.org ). LCS balances two approaches: respectful engagement of minority or indigenous communities and appropriate use of mobile digital technologies. We aim to amplify cultural pride, the values of community and the spoken transmission of traditional knowledge in local languages. Private new media channels managed by minority communities can enable the celebration and exchange of traditional stories, songs and commentaries, to reconnect the generations and their urban diaspora – a self-empowering dialogue around their oral heritage.

    In summary, the fostering of multiculturalism is fundamental to humanity’s and the planet’s sustainability.


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