March 1, 2003 20:50 | Culture / Culture / Technology / WebBlogging

Knowledge, language and cultural erosion

Steph forwarded me an email from the mailing list.

It raises concerns regarding the degradation of global culture due to the alarming rate of extinction of many of the world's languages...

I hope the author doesn't mind my reposting this here.

[on a recent trip to India, Dr Om Vikas from the Ministry of Information gave a presentation and one of the slides really hit me hard. I have reproduced it here, with permission. This is the first time I have ever heard someone question the accepted meme of our knowledge explosion. Even if I disagree with the fringes, it is a bold and interesting point. Maybe an analogy with the loss of biological diversity stands: there are more biomass on earth, but of fewer types. -brewster ]

Is there gain in knowledge or loss of knowledge?

* From an estimated 10,000 world languages in 1900, about 6,700 languages survived in 2000. Two percent of the world's languages are becoming extinct every year.

* There is worldwide, un quantifiable erosion of cultural participation, knowledge and innovation.

* With the loss of language, we lose art and ideas, scientific information and technological innovation capacity.

* World-level literacy is improving. More people can read than ever before, but fewer people create stories.

* There is a tendency from being creators to consumers at the time when technology could have amplified our creative capacities.

* UNESCO study (1999) of 65 languages: 49 languages (75%) had experienced real decline in the number of works translated from these languages to other languages.

* The proportion for English arose from 43 percent in 1980 to over 57 percent in 1994.

* The share held by top four translated languages (English, Spanish, French and German) rose from 65 percent in 1980 to 81 percent in 1994.

* According to a UNESCO study involving the world's 140 most published authors: 90 out of 140 were English writers in 1994 compared to 64 out of 140 in 1980.

* There is a collapse in authorship, translation and quality in other languages.

Cultural Erosion!

Dr. Om Vikas

Wanting to find more information on this led me to this document:
International Conference on Universal Knowledge and Language .