Linguistic diversity is generally perceived as declining, although the number of languages in the world, as counted by catalogues such as Ethnologue, is actually increasing year on year. This paper will consider what is meant by linguistic diversity, how it is measured and valued, why it is seen as under threat, why this matters, and to whom. The paper will trace how the concept of linguistic diversity, and discourses surrounding it, have developed over the last few decades: exploring, for example, parallels that have been drawn between language, cultural and biological diversity, and more recently health and well-being. The paper will also explore the different conceptions and reactions of linguists, policymakers, and linguistic communities: how linguistic resources are valued; what the impact is of their potential loss for academia, societies, and individuals; and how it is addressed by these various actors. The paper will conclude by considering broader implications of viewing linguistic diversity through a social lens, especially in relation to the UNESCO Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022–2032) and discourses and rhetorics about linguistic diversity.

You do not currently have access to this content.