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Linguistic and Biocultural Diversity


The social link to identity and culture (See Language, World View.) is enriched by the potential of the biological nature of language, adding ecologists to the fields that study language, also known as ecolinguistics. This biological nature adds the ecosystem or ecology of language metaphor. The first researchers to point out these connections were David Harmon, and Luisa Maffi, e.g. in their 1995, and 1996 publications. Luisa Maffi was the founder of Terralingua, and its first President (now director), and David Harmon was its Secretary General. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas was the vice-president. Skutnabb-Kangas (2000, pp. 83. 88, 91) and earlier highlighted this correlation and it is now used in documents produced by Terra Lingua, WWF & UNESCO.


Linguistic and biological diversity are correlated geographically, meaning that where there is greater biological diversity, there is also greater linguistic diversity. (See Ecology; Linguistic Diversity). Some critics claim that is wrong to equate languages with biological species (Duchene, Heller), while others point out that the correlation can be critically (Bastardas-Boada) considered.


Indigenous people (See Indigenous Languages, Indigenous People) have fought an overwhelmingly losing battle over rights to their own land, and life; along with the loss of educational and linguistic sovereignty. Colonization has marginalized and often destroyed their traditional land management practices and cultures. Given this situation, the potential for their reclamation of land sovereignty could be critical, meaning the biocultural link if used in support of revitalizing, protecting and valuing their languages (See Indigenous Languages) could be a crucial piece.



Biocultural link: Ecolinguistics. Language and Ecology research forum.

OTHER VIDEOS  Biocultural Diversity in the American Southeast New Directions in Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Wade Davis: Loss of language and cultural diversity


Bastardas-Boada, A. (2002). Biological and linguistic diversity: Transdisciplinary explorations for a socioecology of languages. Diverscite langues, (7), online.


Blythe, J. & Brown, R. M. (Eds). (2004). Maintaining the Links. Language, Identity and the Land. Procceedings of the 7th Conference of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, Broome, Australia. Bath, UK: Foundation for Endangered Languages.


Borrini-Feyerabend, G., Macdonald, K. & Maffi, L. (2004). History, culture, and conservation. Policy Matters, 13 (special issue).


Collard, I.F. & Foley, R.A. (2002). Latitudinal patterns and environmental determinants of recent human cultural diversity: Do humans follow biogeographical rules? Evolutionary Ecology Research, 4, 371-383.


Harmon, D. (1996). Losing species, losing languages: connections between biological and linguistic diversity. Southwest Journal of Linguistics, 15, 89-108.


Krauss, M. (1996). Linguistics and biology: threatened linguistic and biological diversity compared. In CLS 32, Papers from the Parasession on Theory and Data in Linguistics. Chicago Linguistic Society, 69-75.


Lechevrel, N. (2009). The Intertwined Histories of Ecolinguistics and Ecological Approaches of Languages: Historical and Theoretical Aspects of a Research Paradigm. Symposium on Ecolinguistics. University of Southern Denmark.


Maffi, L. & Woodley, E. (Eds). (2010). Biocultural Diversity Conservation: A Global Sourcebook. London: Routledge.


Maffi, Luisa (1996). Language, Knowledge and the Environment: Threats to the World’s Biocultural Diversity. Terralingua Newsletter 2, December 1996. 

Maffi, L. (Ed.) (2001). On Biocultural Diversity: linking language, knowledge, and the environment. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.


Maffi, L. (2005). Linguistic, cultural, and biological diversity. Annual Review of Anthropology, 34, 599-617. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Synthesis Report. Washington, DC: Island Press.


Muhlhausler, P. (2001). Ecolinguistics, Linguistic Diversity, Ecological Diversity. In L. Maffi (Ed.), On Biological Diversity: linking language, knowledge, and the environment. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.


Fill, A., & Muhlhausler, P. (Eds.). (2006). Ecolinguistics Reader: Language, Ecology and Environment. Continuum International Publishing Group.


Rapport, D. J. (2007). Healthy ecosystems: An evolving paradigm. In Pretty, J. et al (Eds.) The Sage Handbook of Society and Environment. London: Sage.


Silver, S., & Miller, W. R. (2000). American Indian Languages: Cultural and Social Contexts. University of Arizona Press. (helpful to consider language without the nation-state construct and critique of Duchene et al above)


Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2000). Linguistic genocide in education – or worldwide diversity and human rights. Mahwah, NJ : Lawrence Erlbaum.


Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove, Maffi, Luisa, & Harmon, David (2006). Sharing a world of difference. The earth’s linguistic, cultural and biological diversity. Terra Lingua, WWF & UNESCO. Online document:


Smith, E. A. (2001). On the Coevolution of Cultural, Linguistic, and Biological Diversity. In L. Maffi (Ed.), On Biocultural Diversity: linking language, knowledge, and the environment. Washington: Smithsonian Institution. (another notion of language too)

For a full updated bibliography, you might want to consult Tove Skutnabb-Kangas' bibliography here:


This web page has a copyright. It may be referred to and quoted, or reproduced and distributed for educational purposes according to fair use legislation only if the following citation is included in the document:

This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Harrison, K.  M. (2013). Linguistic and Buiocultural Diversity. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

We are grateful to Tove Skutnabb-Kangas for correcting errors in this text.

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