Language not only communicates, it defines culture, nature, history, humanity, and ancestry. The indigenous languages of the Arctic have been formed and shaped in close contact with their environment. They are a valuable source of information and a wealth of knowledge on human interactions with nature is encoded in these languages. If a language is lost, a world is lost.

CAFF has developed a Linguistics Index to track status and trends of Arctic languages.

The future is bleak for the majority of the languages currently spoken in the Arctic. If no action is taken, most are likely to become extinct in the next few generations. Twenty-one Arctic languages have become extinct since the 1800s and 10 of these extinctions have taken place after 1990, indicating an increasing rate of language extinction.

Twenty-eight languages classified as critically endangered are in dire need of attention before they, too, are lost forever. Over 70% of the Arctic’s indigenous languages are spoken only in single countries, and so are particularly exposed to the policies of a single government bringing with it the potential perhaps, for more effective conservation of these languages, as no cross border efforts are required. The remaining languages are spread across a number of jurisdictions and are therefore subject to differing approaches when it comes to addressing their revitalization.

Language revitalization in the Arctic is possible, and there are multiple examples to prove it. However, whether it is sufficiently important to invest the time and resources needed to make revitalization a reality, is a question that politicians in the Arctic need to ask themselves sooner rather than later. They will face in the future increasing pressure from the indigenous peoples they represent to take action. Many Arctic indigenous groups have already begun working on language revitalization, viewing it as an important component of their identity. The permanent participants of the Arctic Council look to political leaders to implement policies which will help them promote and sustain their indigenous languages

Linguistics and Languages data

Access maps, graphics and data on Arctic languages on CAFF's Arctic Biodiveristy Data Service (ABDS).

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