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Index of Linguistic Diversity

Key indicator facts

Indicator type

State

Applicable for national use

Yes

Indicator classification

Operational and included in the CBD's list of indicators

Indicator type

State

Applicable for national use

Yes

Indicator classification

Operational and included in the CBD's list of indicators

Last update

2014

Coverage

Global

Availability

Freely available

Partners

Logo web

Terralingua

Contact point

David Harmon: dave_harmon@pasty.net

Indicator description

Over the past few decades, it has become clear that biodiversity and cultural diversity (including linguistic diversity) are inextricably interrelated and interdependent, and that the permanence of loss of diversity in one realm closely tracks the permanence or loss of diversity in the other realm. Furthermore, language and traditional environmental knowledge are intimately linked. Therefore, tracking the state of linguistic diversity over time provides evidence of changes in the state of "traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources".

Related Aichi Targets

Primary target

18

Target 18:

By 2020, the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources, are respected, subject to national legislation and relevant international obligations, and fully integrated and reflected in the implementation of the Convention with the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities, at all relevant levels.

Primary target

18

Target 18:

By 2020, the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources, are respected, subject to national legislation and relevant international obligations, and fully integrated and reflected in the implementation of the Convention with the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities, at all relevant levels.

18

Related SDGs

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GOAL 1 - End poverty in all its forms everywhere.

Target 1.4| Relevant indicator

By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance.

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GOAL 16 - Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Target 16.7| Relevant indicator

Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.

E sdg goals icons individual rgb 01

GOAL 1 - End poverty in all its forms everywhere.

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GOAL 16 - Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

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E sdg goals icons individual rgb 16

Other related MEAs and processes

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IPBES Global Assessment Chapters

Chapter 2| Official indicator

Status and trends; indirect and direct drivers of change

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IPBES Regional Assessment Chapters

Chapter 2| Official indicator

Nature’s benefits to people and quality of life

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Ramsar

Target 10| Relevant indicator

The traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities relevant for the wise use of wetlands and their customary use of wetland resources, are documented, respected, subject to national legislation and relevant international obligations and fully integrated and reflected in the implementation of the Convention with a full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities at all relevant levels.

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IPBES Global Assessment Chapters

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IPBES Regional Assessment Chapters

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Ramsar

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Themes

Bip finance

Finance, research and knowledge

View related indicators >
Bip wellbeing

Human well-being

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Bip finance
Bip wellbeing

Partners

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Key indicator facts

Indicator type

State

Applicable for national use

Yes

Indicator classification

Operational and included in the CBD's list of indicators

Indicator type

State

Applicable for national use

Yes

Indicator classification

Operational and included in the CBD's list of indicators

Last update

2014

Coverage

Global

Availability

Freely available

Indicator description

Over the past few decades, it has become clear that biodiversity and cultural diversity (including linguistic diversity) are inextricably interrelated and interdependent, and that the permanence of loss of diversity in one realm closely tracks the permanence or loss of diversity in the other realm. Furthermore, language and traditional environmental knowledge are intimately linked. Therefore, tracking the state of linguistic diversity over time provides evidence of changes in the state of "traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources".

Contact point

David Harmon: dave_harmon@pasty.net

Graphs / Diagrams

Figure 1. Global Index of Linguistic Diversity and Living Planet Index. Source: Loh and Harmon (2014).

Current storyline

Aichi Target 18 requires that, by 2020, the "traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources" be respected and integrated in the implementation of the CBD. Traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) is expressed and transmitted largely through language. If a language is in decline, that generally means that the knowledge it conveys is also in decline. Therefore, the state of the world's languages can serve as a proxy for the state of TEK, and as an indirect indicator of the extent to which TEK is being respected and integrated in national and international policy.

The Index of Linguistic Diversity measures changes over time not just in language richness (total number of languages), but also changes in the share of global linguistic diversity that each language represents. A decline in the indicator shows a loss of global linguistic diversity, and may imply people switching from generally smaller, more geographically restricted languages to larger, globally or regionally dominant languages. This in turn may imply a switch from local to cosmopolitan knowledge systems, and therefore a loss of TEK relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

The ILD was developed by Terralingua researchers David Harmon and Jonathan Loh as a part of a Terralingua project funded by The Christensen Fund. This project also included the development of a direct indicator of the state and trends of traditional environmental knowledge (the Vitality Index of Traditional Environmental Knowledge, or VITEK, www.bipindicators.net/vitek), which IUCN has recommended to the CBD as also relevant to Aichi Target 18.

The Index of Linguistic Diversity shows that linguistic diversity declined globally by about 30% between 1970 and 2009. This is about the same average rate of decline as populations of vertebrate species between 1970 and 2008, as measured by the WWF/ZSL Living Planet Index. However, there are regional differences in the direct causes of diversity loss.

Figure 2. Regional Indices of Linguistic Diversity. Source: Loh and Harmon (2014).

The fastest declines in linguistic diversity have taken place in the Americas, where the ILD fell by about 75% between 1970 and 2009, and Australia, where the ILD plummeted 85%. Languages spoken in Africa, Asia and Europe are faring better, where the ILD declined by about 20% (Africa) to 30% (Asia and Europe) between 1970 and 2009. For biodiversity, the fastest rates of decline have occurred in the Indo-Pacific (65% between 1970 and 2008), Latin America (50%), and Sub-Saharan Africa (40%). Species populations in North America, Europe and northern Asia have been more stable. In other words, biodiversity has declined rapidly in the tropics, but remained steady in temperate regions, while linguistic diversity has declined rapidly in the new world, but more slowly in the old world.The explanation for the difference in regional patterns in the decline of biodiversity and linguistic diversity lies with the primary threats they face. For species, habitat loss and degradation is still the greatest threat, and since 1970 most habitat loss has taken place in the developing tropics. In the developed world most habitat destruction took place before 1970, so biodiversity loss has flattened out, although the footprint of natural resource consumption by the industrialized world is felt heavily in the developing world. Languages on the other hand do not usually go extinct because an entire population of speakers dies out, but because the speakers of a minority, usually indigenous, language shift to a more dominant language and, typically within a few generations, lose their mother tongue. Migration, urbanization and national unification policies have been the primary drivers of language shift in Africa, Asia and Europe. In the Americas and Australia, the primary driver has also been migration, but where the migrants, mainly European, greatly outnumbered the indigenous populations. Ultimately both biodiversity and linguistic diversity are diminishing as a result of human population growth, increasing consumption and economic globalization which are eroding the differences between one part of the world and another.

Data and methodology

Coverage:

Global time series (1970 – 2005)

Regional/national time series (1970 – 2005)

Global baseline

Regional/National baseline

Scale: Aggregated from national data.

Time series available: 1970 - 2005.

Possible disaggregations: By region, by nation.

Methodology: The ILD depends on estimates of speaker numbers, which are known to vary widely in quality. The ILD uses data-filtering techniques to try to eliminate those data points that are most likely to be anomalous. The reliability of speaker numbers is something that has to be accounted for at all levels, from global on down.

National use of indicator

The ILD depends on estimates of speaker numbers, which are known to vary widely in quality. The ILD uses data-filtering techniques to try to eliminate those data points that are most likely to be anomalous. The reliability of speaker numbers is something that has to be accounted for at all levels, from global on down.The ILD can be applied nationally and regionally. No change in methodology is needed, just the relevant data.

The report Loh and Harmon, 2014. Biocultural Diversity: Threatened species, endangered languages. WWF Netherlands has the latest updates for global and regional indices, as well as Australia and New Guinea indices.

Further resources

Key indicator facts

Indicator type

State

Applicable for national use

Yes

Indicator classification

Operational and included in the CBD's list of indicators

Indicator type

State

Applicable for national use

Yes

Indicator classification

Operational and included in the CBD's list of indicators

Last update

2014

Coverage

Global

Availability

Freely available

Partners

Logo web

Terralingua

Contact point

David Harmon: dave_harmon@pasty.net