Uncover global languages with captivating interactive atlas

Language atlas screengrab

Anyone who shares my fascination with language and uncovering the obscure will enjoy browsing the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. There are reckoned to be over 6,000 languages in the world with some half of those under threat of extinction this century.

The atlas’s excellent print edition was updated last year and there is an searchable online language map, which is great for random investigation.

For instance, there are 144 languages listed for China: from Adi, spoken by about 170,000 people in Siang, to Zaiwa with only a thousand speakers. There are 11 languages listed for the UK, including Cornish and Manx. The latter is listed as “critically endangered” with the atlas noting:

The last speaker of traditional Manx, Ned Maddrell, died in 1974. Since then, however, the language has been undergoing active revitalization in family, school and institutional contexts.

Personally I have found the atlas an absorbing way to wile away an hour or two. Of course, beyond pure fascination, there is a serious point about how we are all culturally poorer by allowing these languages to die:

With the disappearance of unwritten and undocumented languages, humanity would lose not only a cultural wealth but also important ancestral knowledge embedded, in particular, in indigenous languages.

So if you find yourself with an hour or two to spare this long weekend, I urge you to have a look round … and let us know of any gems you uncover!