The World Atlas of Languages is an interactive and dynamic online tool, constantly updated by users. It documents different aspects and features of language status, vitality, endangerment and sustainability.
The World Atlas of Languages aims to become the world’s most extensive documentation of linguistic diversity to date. It is a detailed record of languages as communicative tools and knowledge resources in their sociocultural and socio-political contexts.
In the World Atlas of Languages, each and every language is marked distinctly, and its aim is to describe:
the diversity of languages,
their type, structure and affiliation,
their situation, state and status,
their functions, users and usage,
the diversity of opinions about languages.
The World Atlas of Languages is an unique resource for language preservation, monitoring, promotion and knowledge sharing on language-related issues, as well as an interactive tool for language teaching and learning.
Different language endangerment situations require diverse solutions, measures and interventions. One size does not fit all. That is why the World Atlas of Languages marks a shift of paradigm from a focus on endangerment to the sustainability of linguistic diversity and the empowerment of language users, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN Agenda 2030.
Language is closely linked to issues of economy, politics, innovation, culture, technology, biodiversity and the environment. Languages are key assets to be harnessed to foster pluralistic, equitable, open and inclusive knowledge societies.
By working together, language communities, civil society, academia, governments and private entities can create innovative frameworks of protection to support all languages in today’s interconnected and rapidly changing world. To achieve this, there needs to be systematic collection of language-related data, documentation of language resources, and empowerment of linguistic communities. Language is a building block for sustainable development, because it contributes to peacebuilding, national security, innovation and reconciliation, benefitting the wider global community.
The long-term strategic objective of the UNESCO World Atlas of Languages is to contribute to safeguarding the world’s linguistic diversity and to implement UNESCO’s 2003 Recommendation Concerning the Promotion of Universal Access and Multilingualism in Cyberspace and the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL2022-2032).
The World Atlas of Languages aims to demonstrate, through the analysis of the situation of specific languages and language user groups, the critical importance of language in all aspects of human society.
The World Atlas of Languages takes a human-rights-based approach, by observing and promoting essential values such as gender equality, non-discrimination, geographical representation and a wide outreach to all language communities.
With all this in mind, some of the envisioned areas of contribution for the World Atlas of Languages are:
policy advice and tools
local content production
measuring linguistic diversity
developing language resources, tools and technologies,
fostering internationalized domain names
inspiring and encouraging special initiatives to promote non-dominant languages
The World Atlas of Languages provides a new methodology for the assessment of linguistic diversity that can inform, assist and enhance relevant decisions, policymaking and implementation at all levels. Only a sound situational analysis of languages and their specific ecosystems based on the data collected from different sources, guarantees the development of policies able to protect linguistic diversity adequately.
The World Atlas of Languages effects a shift from a mono- to a multidimensional approach and allows the demonstration of linguistic diversity in a multi-layered manner, taking advantage of technological and scientific progress.
A distinct set of descriptors documents the spatial, temporal, modal, and causal aspects of the reality of each language. These descriptors not only provide general facts, but also offer clarification on the status and state, the users and usage, etc. of each single language.
This descriptive matrix reflects the reality of a language and indicates, among other things on a graduated measurable spectrum - the twin phenomena of endangerment and dominance. Dominance correlates with the status and state of a language and thus results from its use in (formal) public domains in a state or other administrative unit. The evaluation of endangerment mainly follows the criteria of intergenerational use and transmission.
UNESCO Atlas of the World's Endangered Languages
Since 1993, UNESCO has carried out its Endangered Languages Programme. In 1996, the first edition of the Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger of Disappearing (ed. Stephen Wurm) was published by UNESCO (53 pages, including 12 pages of maps). The first publication of its kind, the Atlas met with vivid scholarly and journalistic interest and soon became a general reference book for the wider public.
A second, thoroughly updated edition of the Atlas was produced by UNESCO in 2001, and expanded to 90 pages including 14 pages of maps. The second edition of the Atlas lists, region by region, some 800 endangered languages. It attracted much academic, media and public attention, with hundreds of press articles in different parts of the world devoted to the Atlas, underlining its impact as an awareness-raising instrument regarding language endangerment. There are more than 300,000 internet references to the Atlas, evidence of its huge global impact. A third, fully revised print edition was published at the end of 2008 in celebration of the International Year of Languages proclaimed by the United Nations.
After the first two print editions of the Atlas had appeared, UNESCO envisioned making their information available online, in order to provide updated and more detailed information through a channel more widely accessible than the print works. A pilot version of an online atlas was prepared in 2002-2003, comprising a clickable map of the African continent and textual information on the 100 endangered African languages mentioned in the print Atlas.
Over the past years, UNESCO has developed improved methodologies for assessing language endangerment and systematically collecting detailed data regarding endangered languages, as well as carried out research on language promotion in cyberspace. The print editions of the Atlas do not allow for timely updating of information as it continues to come to us, and do not provide the level of cartographic or textual detail that is increasingly being created as part of this ongoing process of gathering information. This can only be done through an online tool.
In October 2014, UNESCO held an international expert meeting above mentioned bringing together over 60 leading experts, researchers and policy-makers from 24 UNESCO’s Member states to discuss the status of linguistic diversity and multilingualism in cyberspace, and determine the next concrete step to be taken by UNESCO. It was decided that the upscaling of UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger to the World Atlas of Languages was to be undertaken.