How does climate crisis lead to the extinction of languages?
Forced migration poses a greater threat than climate crisis, a new report by The Guardian argues.
The director of the Strathy Language Unit, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario Anastasia Riehl acknowledged in a new article published by The Guardian that there has long been a connection between language and climate although the effects of the climate crisis on languages are recent.
The people of Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and other low-lying Pacific atolls are already in grave danger due to rising sea levels. Simultaneously, the local languages of the islands — Tuvaluan, Kiribati, and Marshallese — as well as houses, agriculture, and community cohesion, are also in danger, the report warned.
In these places, where they lived in valleys here and on islets there, people flourished, giving rise to many communities and countless languages. Today, the tropics are home to a great majority of the world's languages compared to higher latitudes.
"The sea will not suddenly swallow an entire linguistic community in one gulp. The speakers will leave first."
The report added that species of many types have flourished in hospitable climates, not only people and languages. There are notable similarities between the development of animals and languages, as per research on biocultural diversity.
Species of all kinds and not just humans and languages prospered in nurturing climates. Research on biocultural diversity finds striking parallels between the evolution of species and languages, only to conclude that languages develop where a new species roots and blossoms.
Only 25% of the Earth's land area houses the nearly 7,000 languages that are now spoken, specifically in those regions with the richest biodiversity. Unfortunately, because both species and languages are experiencing extinction crises, they are bound together in both birth and death by their common fate, the article argued.
The climate crisis is the narrative twist as the history of language and climate has long been one of concord. Tragically, the regions of the Earth that were once the most hospitable to people, languages, and creatures of all kinds are today turning out to be the least friendly.
"The climate called us in, and now the climate is casting us out."
How will the sea swallow an entire linguistic community?
However, how can the environment harm a language? A linguistic community won't be abruptly swallowed by the sea in a single gulp, Riehl argued.
Before that happens, the speakers will depart from their islands. In actuality, it is unlikely that a language would ever completely disappear as a result of climate change, whether it be due to rising seas, a drought, or severe storms.
Forced migration poses a greater threat than climate crisis. It gets tougher to maintain an Indigenous language as people are forced to leave their homes and settle in a new area, such as a neighboring village, a refugee camp, or an urban area.
To make matters worse, even before the world's temperatures started to increase, a language loss catastrophe was well underway. The majority of languages in the world are already categorized as endangered, with the most pessimistic estimations placing the number at 90%.
The imposition of national languages, government persecution of linguistic minorities, the rise of international languages in the age of globalization, and a lack of media and resources for education in minority languages are just a few of the factors that contribute to this horrifying number.
The Indigenous Languages Decade was established by UNESCO in December in an effort to raise awareness of the language issue and mobilize funding to address it. Concern about the climate emergency and awareness of risks to languages are both growing. Our efforts to address one issue may assist to resolve the other if we link these two existential dangers together.
The climate catastrophe may bring people together, as well as cause damage.
"If languages and species live and die together, surely we can save them together," the report concluded.