Linguistic Diversity – Concept, characteristics and examples

We explain what linguistic diversity is, its characteristics, importance and examples. In addition, the linguistic diversity in Mexico.

linguistic diversity papua new guinea
The areas of greatest linguistic diversity are often far from the centers of power.

What is linguistic diversity?

It is understood by linguistic diversity the proportion of different languages ​​spoken within a given territory, which can be a country or a geographic region. In other words, a place where many languages ​​coexist will have greater linguistic diversity or linguistic richness than another where only one is spoken.

In the world there are linguistically very diverse regions, that is, in which many different languages ​​are spoken, and generally these are geographically very broad regions or very remote in relation to the great historical centers of power and commercial exchange.

This distribution is due to the fact that in the great empires the single language of the conquerors used to be imposed, and in regions of intense commercial and cultural exchange, lingua francas (common languages) emerged that ended up being imposed given their economic importance.

In fact, the regions with the greatest linguistic diversity, at the beginning of the 21st century, are Papua New Guinea (832 spoken languages), Indonesia (731), Nigeria (513), India (400), Mexico (295), Cameroon (286) , Australia (268) and Brazil (264), although the vast majority of them unfortunately have very few speakers today. According to UNESCO, of the 7000 languages ​​spoken on the planet, 50% are at near risk of disappearance.

Linguistic diversity often goes hand in hand with cultural diversity, that is, with the coexistence of different cultures or cultural traditions in the same territory, and it is a feature that in general seeks to preserve as much as possible, so as not to impoverish the linguistic legacy of the inhabitants of a territory. Language is living history, after all.

Characteristics of linguistic diversity

The characteristics of linguistic diversity are as follows:

  • Many different languages ​​are spoken in the same territory, that is, different languages ​​(and not dialects of the same language).
  • Usually is considered a sign of cultural richness and diversity, since languages ​​are part of the cultural legacy of peoples.
  • Over time tends to disappear, to the extent that a single language is imposed for practical reasons, and also due to the dynamics of power that are exerted around the language, for example, it gives power to a language to be taught in schools, or used to formal paperwork.
  • Although it consists of the coexistence of several languages, generally one of the languages ​​is predominant in official affairs (of the State), or a greater historical prestige (especially in the former imperial colonies).

Importance of linguistic diversity

As we have said before, linguistic diversity is a symptom of cultural plurality and complexity, that is, of cultural richness and an important legacy. For this reason it is considered a historical baggage worth preserving, and this can only happen by keeping languages ​​alive and giving them equal importance for day-to-day life and for bureaucratic and prestigious matters.

The loss of linguistic diversity also means the loss of a unique point of view of the universe. and a unique oral and imaginary tradition, so that it is always much more than the mere fact of a code to communicate.

Examples of linguistic diversity

Indian linguistic diversity
India is one of the geographical units with the greatest cultural and linguistic diversity.

Some examples of regions rich in linguistic diversity are the following:

  • Papua New Guinea. One of the megadiverse countries on the planet, and the country in which the most languages ​​are spoken in the world (more than 800), most of which are classified in the set of Papuan languages, typical of the western Pacific Ocean, covering a diverse set of unique language families. It is also home to English, a language inherited for colonial historical reasons, and other hybrid languages ​​between English, German and native languages, known as the unserdeutsch (“Our German”) and the Tok pisin.
  • Nigeria. One of the largest and most important nations in West Africa and a former British colony, Nigeria is a linguistically diverse country, with more than 500 different languages, the vast majority of which are still alive. Most of them are languages ​​of the Niger-Congo group, like Yoruba or Igbo, or Afro-Asian like Hausa, or Nilo-Saharan like Kanuri. English is also handled pidgin or “broken”, Creole language derived from English, and for official and academic matters, British English.
  • India. This is one of the largest and most populated countries on the planet, and also one of the cradles of civilization, where the Indus Valley culture emerged. After the entire African continent, it is considered the geographical unit with the greatest cultural, linguistic and genetic diversity on the planet. It is home to two gigantic families of their own languages: Indo-Aryans (74% of the population) and Dravidians (24% of the population), as well as other languages ​​from the Austro-Asian and Tibetan-Burmese families.

Linguistic diversity in Mexico

Mexico, the ancient cradle of Mesoamerican civilization, is also a good example of enormous linguistic diversity. Like the rest of the former Hispanic colonies in America, it handles Spanish as its official and majority language, but at the same time it preserves and vindicates its pre-Columbian languages survivors.

Among the native languages ​​still in use are Nahuatl (spoken by one million 725 thousand people), Mayan (more than 859 thousand), Tseltal (556 thousand), Mixtec (517 thousand), Tsotsil (487 thousand) , the Zapotec (479 thousand) or the Otomí (307 thousand), to mention only the most predominant.

The indigenous languages ​​of Mexico are disappearing, despite the efforts to preserve them and to preserve their legacy, independent of the Spanish culture imposed for five centuries and unique in the whole world. To that end, investments have been made in bilingual education for indigenous citizens and ongoing campaigns are carried out to raise awareness of the tragic risk that the loss of these languages ​​would represent for humanity.