In this article we would like to introduce the UNESCO project to safeguard the world’s linguistic diversity. The aim of the project is to raise awareness about language endangerment and it intends to do this through the “Endangered Languages Programme”. According to UNESCO a language is in danger when its speakers cease to use it, use it in an increasingly reduced number of communicative domains and cease to pass it on from one generation to the next.
According to an estimate a recent study* – about 97 percent of the world’s people speaks about 4 percent of the world’s languages; conversely, about 96 percent of the world’s languages are spoken by about 3 percent of the world’s people. UNESCO warns that if experts and governments do not take appropriate safeguarding measures, over 6,000 spoken languages will disappear by the end of the century, especially unwritten languages.
UNESCO, however, believes that this process is not irreversible and can be avoided by means of targeted language policies. For this reason, in February 2009 it launched an online edition of the atlas of endangered languages, “Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger”, replacing the famous “Red Book of Endangered Languages”.
The Atlas is collecting a comprehensive list of world languages currently facing extinction. This updated version of the “Red Book” analyses all world languages, contains more information and, taking into account the continuous evolution of the status of a language, provides opportunities for users to submit online feedback. UNESCO encourages and supports linguists and governments wishing to maintain or revitalise endangered languages and pass them on to younger generations. In this document UNESCO explains how, using nine factors, it assesses the vitality of a language or degree of endangerment and indicates attitudes and policies that governments need to follow.
The six degrees of endangerment are listed below in a table which determines the vitality of a language based on the first of the nine factors, Intergenerational Language Transmission:
Other factors are:
2) Absolute number of speakers
3) Proportion of speakers within the total population
4) Shifts in domains of language use
5) Response to new domains and media
6) Availability of materials for language education and literacy,
7) Governmental and institutional language attitudes and policies, including official status and use
8 ) Community members’ attitudes towards their own language
9) Type and quality of documentation
According to the UNESCO assessment, the Sicilian language is classified as follows:
Number of speakers: 5 million (estimate based on various sources for Italy; more in émigré communities).
Location(s): Sicily (Sicilia), southern and central Calabria and southern Apulia (Puglia); a large number of émigré communities. Important communities where Sicilian is spoken exist in the North of Italy, Belgium, Germany, the USA, Argentina and Australia.
Given the above points, “Times of Sicily” believes it speaks for Sicilians in saying that they hope that the Council of Europe, the Italian Government and the “Regione Sicilia” will enforce explicit policies to safeguard and revitalise the Sicilian language. We will act as a watchdog for any actions promised and not taken and report on it. In “Times of Sicily”, we will contribute to Sicilian language publishing as much as possible with articles and materials in all domains of language use, from poetry to business.
“Language diversity is essential to the human heritage. Each and every language embodies the unique cultural wisdom of a people. The loss of any language is thus a loss for all humanity” – – UNESCO
“Un populu – diventa poviru e servu – quannu ci arrubbanu a lingua – addutata di patri: – è persu pi sempri.”
“A nation [as Buttitta defines Sicily] becomes poor and a slave when it is deprived of the language adopted by its forefathers: it is lost forever.” – – IGNAZIO BUTTITTA, Sicilian Poet
* “Bernard 1996: par. 142”