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5 Feb, 2008

Will Global Trends Make Languages Extinct?

According to UNESCO, 96% of the world’s 6,000 languages are spoken by only 4% of the world’s population; fewer than a quarter of them are used in education and cyberspace, most of them only occasionally.

In this dispatch:








According to UNESCO, 96% of the world’s 6,000 languages are spoken by only 4% of the world’s population; fewer than a quarter of them are used in education and cyberspace, most of them only occasionally; fewer than 100 languages are to be found in the digital world. To promote and protect the world’s languages, particularly endangered languages, in all individual and collective contexts, the UN General Assembly in May 2007 proclaimed 2008 to be the International Year of Languages. This is in addition to International Mother Language Day which was proclaimed in 1999 during the 30th session of UNESCO’s General Conference, and Feb 21 declared as the day on which to mark it.

As language issues are central to UNESCO’s mandate in education, science, social and human sciences, culture, and communication and information, the Organisation has been named the lead agency for this event. To celebrate the International Year of Languages, it invites governments, United Nations organisations, civil society organisations, educational institutions, professional associations and all other stakeholders to organise activities highlighting the importance of linguistic heritage.

According to Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, “Languages are indeed essential to the identity of groups and individuals and to their peaceful coexistence. Within the space of a few generations, more than 50% of the 6,000 languages spoken in the world may disappear. Less than a quarter of those languages are currently used in schools and in cyberspace, and most are used only sporadically. Thousands of languages – though mastered by those populations for whom it is the daily means of expression – are absent from education systems, the media, publishing and the public domain in general.”

He added, “We must act now as a matter of urgency. How? By encouraging and developing language policies that enable each linguistic community to use its first language, or mother tongue, as widely and as often as possible, including in education, while also mastering a national or regional language and an international language. Also by encouraging speakers of a dominant language to master another national or regional language and one or two international languages. Only if multilingualism is fully accepted can all languages find their place in our globalised world.”

Mr Matsuura says that the seven languages most used on the Internet are English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German, French and Korean. By all accounts, English ranks first, but its prevalence varies from 35% to 72%, depending on the source. He explains, “UNESCO thus endeavours to promote multilingualism, in particular in the education system, by encouraging the recognition and acquisition of at least three levels of language proficiency for all: a mother tongue, a national language and a language of communication. The promotion of linguistic and cultural diversity is supported by commitment to dialogue among peoples, cultures and civilisations.”

According to Mr Matsuura, UNESCO’s Index Translationum – the only international bibliography of translations to include such a wide range of disciplines with 1,650,000 references in literature, the social and human sciences, the natural and exact sciences, art, history, etc.- shows that between 1979 and 2004, the seven languages most translated world-wide were all Western: English, French, German, Russian, Italian, Spanish and Swedish. Japanese, however, is one of the languages most translated into, ranking fifth after German, Spanish, French and English and followed by Dutch and Portuguese, respectively sixth and seventh.

He notes that languages are of utmost importance in achieving the six goals of education for all (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on which the United Nations agreed in 2000. As factors of social integration, languages play a role in the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1); as supports for literacy, learning and life skills, they are essential to achieving universal primary education (MDG 2); the combat against HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases (MDG 6) must be waged in the languages of the populations concerned if they are to be reached; and the safeguarding of local and indigenous knowledge and know-how with a view to ensuring environmental sustainability (MDG 7) is intrinsically linked to local and indigenous languages.

Says Mr Matsuura, “UNESCO therefore invites governments, UN organisations, civil society organisations, educational institutions, professional associations and all other stakeholders to increase their own activities to foster respect for, and the promotion and protection of all languages, particularly endangered languages, in all individual and collective contexts.

“Whether it be through initiatives in the fields of education, cyberspace or the literate environment; be it through projects to safeguard endangered languages or to promote languages as a tool for social integration; or to explore the relationship between languages and the economy, languages and indigenous knowledge or languages and creation, it is important that the idea that “languages matter!” be promoted everywhere.”


Multilingualism is the theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day, on 21 February. UNESCO is organising a series of debates for the Day.

On February 21, Ernesto Bertolaja, Daniel Prado and François Zumbiehl of the Latin Union will speak with Manuel Tost (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) and Delicia Villagra (Embassy of Paraguay in France) on the subject of “Multilingualism in Romance-language countries”. They will analyze the relationship between languages spoken in certain multilingual Latin states and the means to promote them.

Assia Djebar, first novelist of North African origin elected to the French Academy, will speak of “Mother Writing”. Mireille Calle-Gruber, writer and critic, professor at the University of Paris III, will analyze the impact of Ms Djebar’s mother languages – Berber and Arabic – on the language she writes, which is French.

That same day, several philosophers and writers – Barbara Cassin, Ali Benmakhlouf, Michel Deguy, Robert Maggiori, Xavier North and René Zapata – will base their discussion on the work “European Vocabulary of Philosophies: Dictionary of the Untranslatable” (co-editors Seuil/Le Robert), a new approach to the difficulty of translating philosophy. “The Challenges of Bridge Building: From Mother Tongue to Multilingual Education” will be the subject of the debate organised by the American NGO, SIL International.

On Thursday 22 February, the workshop “Recent Experiences on Measuring Languages in Cyberspace” will review and compare recent projects, particularly African and Asian projects, to measure the presence of languages in cyberspace. Participants include Adama Samassekou, African Academy of Languages (ACALAN) and Yoshiki Mikami, Language Observatory Project (LOP). Frederic Monràs from Linguamón – House of Languages (Catalonia) will present “How to pattern Internet multilingually (and how to cluster it)”.

The French version of the work Comment assurer la présence d’une langue dans le cyberespace, will be introduced by its author, Marcel Diki-Kidiri. During the day, the short film “The Dragon speaks with Two Tongues” will be screened. Directed by Gwyneth Edwards, it focuses on the “peaceful cohabitation” of English and Welsh in Wales.



MANILA, Philippines – In a first for Asia, the Philippines plans to phase out inefficient incandescent bulbs in favor of more energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cut household energy costs. In her closing remarks at the 2008 Philippine Energy Summit, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo announced the country’s plans to phase out incandescent bulbs by January 2010. Australia made a similar move early last year, which was followed by Canada and other industrialised countries.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) acted as technical advisor to the Energy Summit, assisting the Department of Energy in developing plans to address climate change and reduce energy consumption.

“The most effective way we can reduce energy demand and greenhouse gases is by using energy more efficiently,” said Thomas Crouch, Deputy Director General of ADB’s Southeast Asia Department. “The climate change challenge is a global one. ADB will support and encourage other developing countries to follow the Government of Philippines’ lead and make the switch to more energy-efficient products like compact fluorescent lamps.”

ADB is considering extending a $30 million loan later this year to the Philippines to help fund a range of programs on energy efficiency, including pilot programs that could be continued as long-term development projects. Portions of the ADB funding could be used to provide CFLs to low-income families to mitigate the impact of the change from incandescent lighting.

While CFLs are more expensive to buy than incandescent bulbs, they pay for themselves in lower power bills within a year. CFLs use around 20% of the electricity used by incandescent bulbs to produce the same amount of light. Additionally, CFLs last six to ten times longer than the average incandescent bulb.

The switch to CFLs will result in household lighting costs falling by as much as 80%, and the country’s annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions falling 2 million metric tons starting in 2010. Additionally, national electricity demand is expected to fall by 2,000 megawatts, or the equivalent of electricity generated by six power plants. Electric lighting generates emissions equal to 70% of those from all the world’s passenger vehicles, and 90% of the energy consumed by each bulb generates heat, which then adds to air-conditioning costs.



31 January 2008, Rome – Environmental and economic damages caused by the alarming loss of mangroves in many countries should be urgently addressed, the Food and Agriculture Organisation said today, calling for better mangrove protection and management programmes. The world has lost around 3.6 million hectares (ha) of mangroves since 1980, equivalent to an alarming 20 percent loss of total mangrove area according to FAO’s recent mangrove assessment study, entitled The world’s mangroves 1980-2005.

The total mangrove area has declined from 18.8 million ha in 1980 to 15.2 million ha in 2005, according to the report. There has, however, been a slowdown in the rate of mangrove loss: from some 187 000 ha destroyed annually in the 1980s to 102 000 ha a year between 2000 and 2005, reflecting an increased awareness of the value of mangrove ecosystems.

“Mangroves are important forested wetlands and most countries have now banned the conversion of mangroves for aquaculture and they assess the impact on the environment before using mangrove areas for other purposes,” said Wulf Killmann, Director of FAO’s Forest Products and Industry Division, on the occasion of World Wetlands Day (2 February 2008).

“This has lead to better protection and management of mangroves in some countries. But overall, the loss of these coastal forests remains alarming. The rate of mangrove loss is significantly higher than the loss of any other types of forests. If deforestation of mangroves continues, it can lead to severe losses of biodiversity and livelihoods, in addition to salt intrusion in coastal areas and siltation of coral reefs, ports and shipping lanes. Tourism would also suffer. Countries need to engage in a more effective conservation and sustainable management of the world’s mangroves and other wetland ecosystems,” he added.


Asia suffered the largest net loss of mangroves since 1980, with more than 1.9 million ha destroyed, mainly due to changes in land use. North and Central America and Africa also contributed significantly to the decrease in mangrove area, with losses of about 690 000 and 510 000 ha respectively over the last 25 years.

At the country level, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Panama recorded the largest losses of mangroves during the 1980s. A total of some one million ha were lost in these five countries – a land area comparable to Jamaica. In the 1990s, Pakistan and Panama succeeded in reducing their rate of mangrove loss. Conversely, Viet Nam, Malaysia and Madagascar suffered increased clearing and moved into the top five countries with major area losses in the 1990s and 2000-2005.

FAO cited high population pressure, the large-scale conversion of mangrove areas for shrimp and fish farming, agriculture, infrastructure and tourism, as well as pollution and natural disasters as the major causes for the destruction of mangroves.


“On a positive note, a number of countries have had an increase in mangrove area over time, including Bangladesh,” said Senior Forestry Officer Mette Wilkie. “Part of the largest mangrove area in the world, the Sundarbans Reserved Forest in Bangladesh, is well protected and no major changes in the extent of the area have occurred during the last few decades, although some damage to the mangroves was reported after the recent cyclone in 2007. In Ecuador, the abandoning of ponds and structures for shrimp and salt production led to a rebuilding of various mangrove sites,” she said.

Mangroves are salt-tolerant evergreen forests found along coastlines, lagoons, rivers or deltas in 124 tropical and subtropical countries and areas, protecting coastal areas against erosion, cyclones and wind.

Mangroves are important ecosystems providing wood, food, fodder, medicine and honey. They are also habitats for many animals like crocodiles and snakes, tigers, deer, otters, dolphins and birds. A wide range of fish and shellfish also depends on these coastal forests and mangroves help to protect coral reefs against siltation from upland erosion. Indonesia, Australia, Brazil, Nigeria and Mexico together account for around 50 percent of the total global mangrove area.

The assessment of the world’s mangroves 1980-2005 was prepared in collaboration with mangrove specialists throughout the world and was co-funded by the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO). FAO and ITTO are currently working with the International Society for Mangrove Ecosystems and other partner organisations to produce a World Atlas of Mangroves to be published later this year.



During the last 50 years many Caribbean reefs lost up to 80% of their coral cover. 2005 was especially disastrous for Caribbean corals and consequently, for the people who depend on them for their livelihoods. This alarming situation is documented in the publication “The Status of Caribbean Coral Reefs after Bleaching and Hurricanes in 2005”, presented by its lead editor Clive Wilkinson, Director of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, at UNESCO HQ in Paris on February 4.

Co-sponsored by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the book is a report from 80 coral reef scientists and managers. It assesses the damage caused to the reefs by high temperatures and numerous storms in 2005 in the Wider Caribbean which contains 10.3% of the world’s reefs.

The warmest year since temperature records began in 1880, 2005 witnessed massive coral losses through severe bleaching, up to 95% in several islands including the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Cuba, and the French West Indies. 2005 was also a hurricane year with 26 named storms, including 13 hurricanes. Through the coordination efforts of groups like the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, scientific networks and monitoring tools were in place allowing for alerts to be issued and for managers and scientists to monitor and respond to damage.

During the last 50 years many Caribbean reefs lost up to 80% of their coral cover. The World Resources Institute Reefs’ Risk analysis estimated that this loss could cost the region US$140 million to $420 million annually.

Worldwide, nearly 500 million people depend on healthy coral reefs for sustenance, coastal protection, renewable resources, and tourism, with an estimated 30 million of the world’s poorest people depending entirely on the reefs for food. Coral reefs are fragile ecosystems and current estimates suggest that nearly two-thirds of the world’s coral reefs are under severe threat from impacts of economic development and climate impacts, such as coral bleaching, a direct result of global warming. According to the report, the only possible way to sustain some live coral on the reefs around the world is to control further warming by a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the next 20 years and to carefully manage the direct pressures like pollution, fishing and damaging coastal developments.

The report marks the beginning of the International Year of the Reef 2008, a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about the value of coral reefs and the threats they face. It also aims to motivate people to take action to protect them.



SIEM REAP, Cambodia, 29 January 2008 — The national training-of-trainer workshop on cultural tourism sites management and guiding will be held from 11-16 February 2008 in Angkor, Siem Riep, Cambodia. The workshop will jointly be organised by UNESCAP and UNESCO in close partnership with Cambodian Ministry of Tourism, Authority for Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA).

UNESCO World Heritage Sites have become the most prominent tourism destinations in the Asia-Pacific region. Representing universal values, these landmark sites range from breathtaking cultural landscapes to living historic towns, from works of engineering genius to stunning architectural monuments. The tourism boom at these sites has fostered international exchange, and tourism revenue promises to bring development to these communities. Yet massive tourism pressure threatens the long-term condition and authenticity of the sites.

Sustainable tourism calls for a new breed of responsible and informed tourists. The major rise in cultural tourism has seen a demand by visitors for more meaningful interaction with both the heritage and surrounding communities. In order to contribute to the wellbeing of the sites and local stakeholders and to minimise negative impacts from tourism, heritage guides play an important role in educating the visitors about the authentic values of the site and codes of responsible conduct.

In response to these concerns, the UNESCO-ICCROM Asian Academy for Heritage Management (AAHM) launched the Cultural Heritage Specialist Guide Programme in 2005. This pioneering, practical and internationally-recognised training and certification programme is being implemented through active partnerships between members of the Asian Academy, training institutions from the UNESCAP Asia Pacific Education and Training Institutes in Tourism (APETIT) network and National Tourism Organisations (NTOs). The Institute for Tourism Studies (IFT) serves as the regional focal point with UNESCO providing technical advisory services and oversight.

Complementing existing national training/certification courses, the advanced training/certification offered by the programme will:

<> provide accredited guides the opportunity to strengthen their skills in interpreting heritage sites, with an emphasis on World Heritage Sites;

<> enhance the educational experience of visitors (both local and international), leading to longer stays and repeat visitation;

<> contribute to the sustainable safeguarding of UNESCO World Heritage sites by educating visitors about conservation issues and advocating codes of responsible conduct;

<> benefit local communities by promoting their role as hosts and active participants in the cultural tourism industry.

UNESCO and the regional and national training institutions offering the programme will officially accredit guides as Cultural Heritage Specialist Guides, as an advanced supplement to existing national guide certification schemes. On completion of the course, accredited guides will have preferential access to UNESCO materials, teaching aids for guiding visitors around heritage sites, brochures and schematic maps, and other exclusive UNESCO products.

For more information, please visit the link: http://www.unescobkk.org/culture/asian-academy/heritageguides. Or contact: UNESCO Office of the Regional Advisor for Culture in Asia and the Pacific, Tel: +66 2391 0577 Ext.509. Email: culture@unescobkk.org

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