Arctic Yearbook 2014 - Page 71

Arctic Yearbook 2014 71 Background The Arctic is one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world, and yet it is home to a large number of different indigenous groups, representing different languages and cultures. Just what territory the term Arctic references depends on one’s definition: some define the Arctic as the area above the Arctic Circle, while others take the line drawn by the Arctic Human Development Report as delineating the Arctic, that is, the area roughly above the tree line. By the same token, the exact number of indigenous languages depends on what criteria are used for determining the boundaries between language and dialect; somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 is generally accepted. Barry et al. (2013) provides a table of 87 languages, of which 21 are already extinct. (Here too the notion of “extinction” is problematic, as Evans (2001) points out.) Regardless of the details, these figures provide an approximate assessment of the number of different Arctic languages. They differ significantly in terms of the size both of the ethnic population and of the number of speakers. Some have a quite small population base (as in the Itelmen of Siberia, with perhaps 80 speakers from a total estimated population of 3200, 2010 All-Russian Census) to quite large (as the Inuit, who total approximately 120,000 across the Arctic). Overall vitality of the languages varies as well, and the parameters of this vitality, the factors involved in increased or decreased vitality, are at the heart of the project. In the Arctic, as in many indigenous communities elsewhere, language is a recognized factor in overall cultural and social well-being (Schweizer et al. 2010); language vitality is seen as an essential component of a healthy society. For the purposes of the Arctic Indigenous Language Vitality Initiative, the Arctic Indigenous Languages it represents are those languages sp