There are currently approximately 4000 written and 6900 spoken languages in the world.
We started out by putting all languages of the United Nations on the Peace Umbrella.
However, where foreign languages had become the official language of communication as a result of the various colonial empires we looked to add the languages of the largest group/s of ethnic speakers in the various countries concerned.
This applies in particular to Africa, where language boundaries do not correspond to the present political demarcations. However, as much as we have tried, there will – inevitably – be some omissions, particularly as some countries have a multitude of ethnic groups and thus ‘national’ languages.
Australia was another major problem as it proved to be impossible to identify prevailing aboriginal languages which had never been transcribed. This is due to the lack of available indigenous expertise, not only regarding the choice of language but also the correct interpretation of the word ‘peace’.
The Peace Umbrella Team would therefore beg to be absolved, if some language choices are ultimately based on linguistic rather than socio-political considerations.
4 billion people are left out of important global conversations because of the language they speak.
Translators Without Borders
As was to be expected, the language research became a major preoccupation for our research teams which included professional linguists and native speakers of less common languages spanning five continents, internationally recognised language research centres like SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), UK, special linguistic and cultural websites, translation tools and specialist dictionaries for native languages.
Some of these were reference works used by international agencies and NGOs in their daily communications with native speakers.
Others were historical sources, which were consulted whenever possible as was indigenous literature for transcribed native languages.
For countries with a multitude of official international and national languages of ethnic speakers the official international language/s and the official language of the majority percentage of the population were normally chosen.
However, in the case of large percentages of the same ethnic language speakers in more than one country, one language was attributed to one country and the other to another country. It would have gone beyond the purpose of this project to list all neighbouring countries where the same ethnic language groups also constitute large population segments.
The Fula word ‘jamm’ or ‘jam’ used by the Fulani (Fula, Fulbe, Wolof, Peul (French)); although Fula is spoken throughout West Africa, the language has been attributed to Guinea because the Fulani make up the largest percentage of its population. However, large numbers of Fulani also live in Nigeria and other West and Central African countries.
The word selection also had to take into consideration the origins of the original transcription of the oral languages, i.e. whether the word was transcribed by linguists whose mother tongues were French, English, German, Italian or Spanish since this influenced how the spoken word was ultimately transcribed.
The waging of peace as a science, as an art, is in its infancy. Waging war we understand but not waging peace, or at any rate less consciously so.
Fredrik Bajer, Danish,1827-1922
Nobel Peace Prize 1908
Some ethnic languages appear not to have a specific term for the word ‘peace’ as opposed to ‘war’ but have a word that signifies ‘inner peace’, ‘peace of mind’, ‘peacefulness’ or acts as a greeting when people meet and bestow a peaceful blessing on each other.
This is the case with the Yoruba word – alaafia – peace of mind –, which has caused substantial controversies among linguists as to its actual African origin. It also applies to the Burmese word on the Peace Umbrella. We were later supplied with the second choice, which we were told more accurately describes 'peace' as opposed to 'war'.
With regard to scripts of less known native languages, the visual beauty and intricacy of the script determined their choice as a script instead of the phonetic Roman transcription. Typical examples are the Berber, Cherokee and Inuit scripts.
However, the phonetic transcription is also provided in the Table of Languages.
Wherever possible, the colour palette we used for individual languages reflects the cultural traditions of individual countries and people.
The map explains the ranking of 163 nations on factors such as homicide, military expenditure, ongoing conflict and the overall economic impact of violence and climate change in the world.