Around the world, climate change is endangering the art of speaking: a language becomes extinct every two weeks, taking with it the memory of that culture and way of being.
Kate Yoder reported on this for Grist. While languages vanish after their speakers learn another, “more dominant one,” she explains, languages can also disappear due to other reasons: natural disasters, famine, disease, war.
If you’re well versed in the effects of climate change, that list will sound familiar. As the world heats up, we’re on track to see more intense storms, rising seas, prolonged droughts, and the spread of infectious diseases—all of which can, in turn, lead to chaos, armed conflicts, and migration. And when people settle in a new place, they begin a new life, complete with new surroundings, new traditions, and, yes, a new language.
Greenland’s Inuit people are especially at risk of losing their Greelandic language. Their ice sheets are melting at unprecedented rates and as sea levels rise, people are pushed to the Marshall Islands, Hawaii and along the Australian coast off their sinking homes. “Marshallese immigrants would likely assimilate and lose their traditional language within the span of a few generations,” Yoder writes.
“Anywhere there’s a coral atoll and a unique cultural group on that atoll, there’s that potential for mass migration and extinction of languages,” anthropologist Peter Rudiak-Gould told Grist. But language is also threatened when new people enter an area. In Greenland, foreign workers are coming in to take advantage of new extraction opportunities made available by the melting ice.
People in Greenland are aware of what is happening, and they’ve put mechanisms in place to protect their culture, according to the Grist article. Per the story:
The government is replacing Danish place names with the traditional Inuit ones, translating written materials into Greenlandic, and ensuring the language is used in schools. There’s even a language committee that legislates new words. Katti Frederikson, the head of the language secretariat, helps develop and approve new Greenlandic terminology for all sorts of subjects: economics, science, mining industries, and law.
Find the complete story here.