Of Plants and Words: Biological and Linguistic Diversity

In their September/October issue, Resurgence Magazine focused on "Indigenous Intelligence: Diverse Solutions for the 21st Century." One article focused on biological and linguistic diversity: "A Word of Difference," by Maurice Calder. Calder asks whether the extinction of languages (an estimated 90% in 100 years) matters outside academic circles. "The answers to this question are complex and, in today’s world, become intermeshed with the political development of society, particularly since the rise of the nation-state;" writes Calder. "It is no accident that there are fewer languages spoken today in Europe, the place where the nation-state originated, than for example in just one African country: Nigeria."
GENERALLY SPEAKING, IT is noticeable how much in common there is between biological and linguistic diversity: the number of varieties are concentrated in similar places, and more ominously the activities of a few species or languages can have negative consequences. Just as, for example, the cane toad introduced into Australia is inexorably spreading and wiping out local fauna, and monocultures of Eurasian origin such as wheat, barley and cattle are replacing a profusion of local species, so languages such as English, Spanish and Chinese are expanding at the expense of local dialects and languages. The disappearance of hundreds of species of fish, birds and other forms of life along with their names and related knowledge of their habitat and behaviour represents a huge loss to science at precisely the time when we need most urgently to manage local ecosystems more effectively.
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