UNESCO’s Atlas


The new UNESCO’s World Atlas of Languages will be presented at the Forum by Assistant Director General Mr Frank La Rue and programme specialist Dr. Irmgarda Kasinskaite-Buddeberg, from the Communication and Information Sector of UNESCO.

UNESCO’s Atlas of World Languages is a project of the Communication and Information Sector of UNESCO, part of the Sector’s strategy to promote Multilingualism in the Cyberspace, taking advantage of the possibilities of ICT for the safeguarding and development of minority languages.

The new Atlas will be based on the online version of the UNESCO Atlas of Languages in Danger, but will upscale it, with a different approach: it will not just include endangered languages, but all apparently “safe” languages as well, as “this would more accurately reflect global linguistic diversity and serve also as a learning and teaching resource” (Roadmap Towards UNESCO’s World Atlas of Languages, point 7). The project also involves the revision of UNESCO’s Language Vitality Index.

The ultimate goal of new Atlas project is, therefore, to contribute to the safeguarding of the world’s diverse linguistic and cultural heritage and the promotion of multilingualism in cyberspace.

“These goals could be achieved through the UNESCO World Atlas of Languages as a multi-tiered interactive platform, with input mainly from the Global Task Force (GTF), International Consultative Committee (ICC), Global Institutional Network (GIN) and language speaker communities. It is expected that this online platform would nurture education, build new knowledge, encourage exchange of scientific results among higher educational institutions, libraries, archives and other public and private organizations, promote open access to scientific resources, and empower local communities to use their own languages in cyberspace.” (Roadmap…, p. 11)

Some key features:

  • A Human rights approach
  • Commitment with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
  • Languages seen as a key factor of group identity, for the creation of sustainable and inclusive knowledge societies and the fulfilment of the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda. Acknowledgement that language loss has terrible negative impacts, such as impoverishment, disempowerment, weakening of global scientific capacity, serious economic consequences, weakening of community identities, threat to mutual understanding and peace among nations.
  • Inclusive and multi-levelled project, involving stake-holders, linguistic communities, agents of institutions both public and private, and at different levels (regional, national and international).
  • Multi-tasking: knowledge building, information sharing, open access to scientific results; best practice sharing.


  1. A Global Task Force on Multilingualism for global-scale awareness-raising and standard setting.
  2. A International Consultative Committee of experts, who will formulate recommendations, with special focus on defining and redefining the Language Vitality Criteria used in the Atlas.
  3. A Global Institutional Network comprising Higher Educational institutions, whose remit is to collect and share language-related data and information.
  4. Involvement of language speaker communities through dedicated online language windows.



UNESCO. Roadmap Towards UNESCO’s World Atlas of Languages (approved by Executive Board on 22/02/2016). http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002438/243852e.pdf

UNESCO. Communication and Information Sector. Towards a Revised UNESCO’s Language Vitality Index (13/11/2015). http://www.unesco.org/new/en/media-services/single-view/news/towards_a_revised_unescos_language_vitality_index/#.V5iDhxKdcqM

UNESCO. Communication and Information Sector. Towards UNESCO’s World Atlas of Languages. Final Recommendations for the Action Plan (11/02/2015). http://www.unesco.org/new/en/media-services/single-view/news/towards_unescos_world_atlas_of_languages_final_recommendations_for_the_action_plan/#.V5iK9xKdcqM