“Now together, the myriad cultures of the world make up a web of spiritual life and cultural life that envelopes the planet and is as important to the well being of the planet as is indeed the biological web of life that you know as the biosphere. You might think of this cultural web of life as being an ethnosphere.
You might define the ethnosphere as being the sum total of all thoughts, dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. The ethnosphere is humanity’s great legacy. It’s a symbol of all the we are and all that we can be as an astonishingly inquisitive species. And just as the biosphere is being severely eroded, so too is the ethnosphere – and if anything, at a far greater rate.
No biologist, for example, would dare suggest that 50% of all species are moribund or on the brink of extinction because it simply is not true. And yet that, the most apocalyptic scenario in the realm of biological diversity scarcely approaches what we know to be the most optimistic scenario in the realm of cultural diversity.
And the great indicator of that, of course, is language loss. When each of you in this room were born, there were 6,000 languages spoken on the planet.
Now a language is not just a body of vocabulary or a set of grammatical rules, a language is a flash of the human spirit, its a vehicle through which the soul of each particular culture comes into the material world. Every language is an old growth forest of the mind, a watershed of thought, an ecosystem of spiritual possibilities.
And of those 6,000 languages, as we sit here today in Monterray, fully half are no longer being whispered into the ears of children. They are no longer being taught to babies. Which means, effectively, unless something changes, they’re already dead.
What could be more lonely than to be enveloped in silence, to be the last of your people to speak your language, to have no way to pass on the wisdom of the ancestors, or anticipate the promise of the children?
And yet, that dreadful fate is indeed the plight of somebody somewhere on earth roughly every two weeks because every two weeks, some elder dies and carries with them into grave the last syllables of an ancient tongue.”
– Wade Davis