Voices of the Earth

There are about 7,000 languages spoken on the planet today — 7,000 different ways of saying “I am human.” These are the Voices of the Earth, the large majority of them the voices of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Each language conveys a distinct cultural identity and worldview, set of values and beliefs, and system of knowledge and practices. Each language expresses people’s relationships to one another and to the natural world. And each language serves to transmit a way of life and ancestral wisdom to younger generations. Over millennia, the diversity of languages and cultural traditions, tightly interwoven with diversity in nature, has given rise to what we at Terralingua call the biocultural diversity of life.

But today we live in a different, increasingly homogenized world. The diverse chorus of the Voices of the Earth is being overpowered by just a few dominant voices that have spread their reach across the globe. Instead of achieving a vibrant unity in diversity, we’re quickly sliding into a drab sameness without unity. As linguistic diversity declines, the cultural traditions embodied in the languages — often existing only in oral form — are also placed at risk. When Indigenous and local languages fall silent, so do the knowledge and wisdom stored in their speakers’ oral traditions.

The consequences of this loss of linguistic and cultural diversity are profound, not only for Indigenous Peoples and local communities themselves, but also for humanity at large. The less a diversity of voices can be heard, the more likely it becomes that people everywhere will encounter the same “cultural blind spots”: cases in which the dominant cultural models fail to provide viable solutions to the many challenges human societies face.

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And the greatest of challenges we all face is how to care for the Earth so we may draw sustenance from it without compromising its capacity to sustain life. Collectively, the Voices of the Earth offer myriad responses to that far-reaching challenge. That collective wisdom is vital for the survival and well-being of each and every human society and of all other species with which we share this planet. There is a lot in that wisdom for everyone to learn — or re-learn.

That’s why Terralingua started the Voices of the Earth project: to support Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ efforts to maintain or recover their languages and cultural traditions — traditions that often reflect people’s historic presence on the land and their cultural and spiritual connections with it. Recording and revitalizing those oral traditions is central to their ability to forge their own destinies while still retaining their cultural roots and links to the land. It can also bolster their attempts to uphold cultural and land rights in the face of external pressures that might radically alter their natural environments and their ways of life.

Below you can explore the projects we’ve partnered on with some of the Voices of the Earth: the W̱SÁNEĆ and Tsilhqot’in First Nations in British Columbia, Canada; Swahili communities in Zanzibar, East Africa; and Xhosa youth in South Africa. We are sharing some of the outcomes of these projects on this website with our partners’ permission.

As an extension of this effort, our flagship publication Langscape Magazine offers a global space for the Voices of the Earth to be heard. In 2019 — the International Year of Indigenous Languages — we dedicated the magazine entirely to the voices of Indigenous youth from around the world.

biocultural diversity

Bringing the old stories back

biocultural diversity

Reclaiming language, culture, and land

biocultural diversity

Protecting sacred natural sites

biocultural diversity

Reconnecting youth to biocultural heritage

Voices of the Earth projects have been funded by the Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research, Lush Charity Pot, the Swift Foundation, and Tides Canada. We gratefully acknowledge their generous support.