Terralingua owes its existence to a chance “meeting of minds.” In 1995, Luisa Maffi, a linguist and anthropologist, and David Harmon, a conservationist, met at a conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico (USA), and discovered they had been thinking along similar lines about biodiversity, cultural diversity, and linguistic diversity as interconnected manifestations of the diversity of life on earth. They also found themselves in agreement that diversity in all its forms is at risk, mostly because of human action, that diversity loss will have profound consequences for humanity and all of life, and that something should be done to stave off that far-reaching threat.
Over dinner that evening, Luisa, David, and a few other like-minded conference participants hatched the idea of creating a non-academic organization devoted to research and action on what we would later label “biocultural diversity.” The following year, in 1996, that idea came to fruition when Terralingua incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in the USA. We chose that name, from the Italian terra, “earth” and lingua, “language,” to signify both the languages of the Earth — the many voices of the world’s diverse peoples — and the language of the Earth, that is the voice of Mother Nature. Since 2012, Terralingua has also been a registered charity in Canada.