Biolinguistic diversity

/baɪ.əʊ-lɪŋˈɡwɪs.tɪk / dəˈvərsədē/


Dr Mairi McFadyen



See Also

Language Nature
A term that makes explicit the link between cultural diversity, biological diversity and (Traditional) Ecological Knowledge (TEK). It expresses the rich fabric of life, encompassing all the earth’s species of plants and animals along with human cultures and their languages.

Further Reading

What is Biocultural Diversity? on

Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World’s Languages by David Nettle and Suzanne Romaine [book, 2000]


For millennia, humans have been part of nature and have co-evolved with it. Over time, people have adapted to their local environment while drawing material and spiritual sustenance from it. Through this mutual adaptation, human communities have developed thousands of different cultures and languages: distinctive ways of seeing, knowing, doing, and speaking that have been shaped by the interactions between people and the natural world.


Traditional ecological knowledge and practices often make indigenous peoples, minorities, and local communities highly skilled and respectful stewards of the ecosystems in greatest need of protection. Recent research demonstrates that while the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples make up less than five percent of the total human population, they support about 80 percent of the global biodiversity.


Global economic, political, and social forces are rapidly eroding the health of the world’s ecosystems and cultures. Approximately half of all known languages have disappeared in the last five hundred years and, according to some, 90% of all languages are in danger of becoming extinct during the next century. The fabric of life in nature and culture is coming unraveled, leaving our world increasingly fragile and the outlook for humans and all other species increasingly uncertain. It’s a converging extinction crisis of the diversity of life in all its forms.



Diversity and scale, image: Robb Mcrae

Questions & Provocations

Beyond '50 words for snow', what other linguistic examples reveal the close understanding between indigenous peoples and their environments?