UNESCO Culture Sector
UNESCO is a specialized agency of the United Nations that, among other activities, promotes cultural diversity, preservation of culture, and upholding human rights in relation to these areas. The Intangible Heritage division of the Culture Sector includes an Endangered Languages Programme which is aimed at raising awareness of language endangerment, promoting language preservation policies, and enabling international cooperation. The website is available in English, French, Spanish and includes information about UNESCO Endangered Languages programs; official statements, reports, and publications; events; news; and photographs.

Some of the key documents and topics included on this information-rich site are:

The Intangible Heritage Messenger: Endangered languages (September 15, 2006). This special issue of UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage newsletter is devoted to the Endangered Languages Programme. Features include highlights of official activities and descriptions of involved linguistic groups.

Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing. This online interactive atlas is in progress (only Africa is available), but print versions were published in 1996 and 2001. In addition, an update to the print atlas is planned for 2008. This is an excellent educational tool for exploring endangered languages.

The site also includes “guiding documents” for the Endangered Languages Programme. These informative items give comprehensive background on the Programme, including its rationale and activities (past and future) and detailed information about the state of the world’s languages.

UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity

Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage

Language Vitality and Endangerment

Recommendations for Action Plans

Multilingualism in Cyberspace Initiative

International Mother Language Day


UNESCO’s Red Book of Endangered Languages provides information about the world’s endangered languages, including geographic location, linguistic classification, and present state of the languages (e.g., number and age of speakers). The source is searchable by language name, continent, or country. In addition, sources of information for each language are cited. The site is hosted by the Department of Asian and Pacific Linguistics at Tokyo University, so it is available in English and Japanese.


Languages of the World from the National Virtual Translation Center in the United States contains extensive information about the world’s languages—not just endangered ones—including history, major features (vocabulary, writing, sound system, and grammar), current status, and other resources. There is also more general content about linguistics and studying languages, including a page devoted to endangered languages. It also has dynamic content, including quizzes, sound recordings, and an interactive map. The website succeeds in balancing readability with inclusion of technical linguistic details. The site is easy to navigate and has an appealing design. However, some hyperlinks are broken.


The National Science Foundation Special Report on Language and Linguistics presents a broad overview of the study of language. The website contains a brief information page about endangered languages, particularly methods for documenting them. The “slick” design promotes information about the issues of language endangerment to a wide general audience.

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