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Cultural diversity is the variety of human societies or cultures in a specific region, or in the world as a whole. (The term is also sometimes used to refer to multiculturalism within an organisation. This article does not currently cover that alternative meaning.)
There is a general consensus among mainstream anthropologists that humans first emerged in Africa about two million years ago. Since then we have spread throughout the world, successfully adapting to widely differing conditions and to periodic cataclysmic changes in local and global climate. The many separate societies that emerged around the globe differed markedly from each other, and many of these differences persist to this day.
As well as the more obvious cultural differences that exist between peoples, such as language, dress and traditions, there are also significant variations in the way societies organise themselves, in their shared conception of morality, and in the ways they interact with their environment. It is debatable whether these differences are merely incidental artefacts arising from patterns of human migration or whether they represent an evolutionary trait that is key to our success as a species. By analogy with biodiversity, which is thought to be essential to the long-term survival of life on earth, cultural diversity may be vital for the long-term survival of humanity; and that the conservation of indigenous cultures may be as important to humankind as the conservation of species and ecosystems is to life in general.
This argument is rejected by many people, on several grounds. Firstly, like most evolutionary accounts of human nature, the importance of cultural diversity for survival may be an un-testable hypothesis, which can neither be proved nor disproved. Secondly, it can be argued that it is unethical deliberately to conserve "less developed" societies, because this will deny people within those societies the benefits of technological and medical advances enjoyed by those of us in the "developed" world. Finally, there are many people, particularly those with strong religious beliefs, who maintain that it is in the best interests of individuals and of humanity as a whole that we all adhere to the single model for society that they deem to be correct. For example, fundamentalist evangelist missionary organisations such as the New Tribes Mission actively work to reduce cultural diversity by seeking out remote tribal societies, converting them to their own faith, and inducing them to conform to their own model of society.
Cultural diversity is tricky to quantify, but a good indication is thought to be a count of the number of languages spoken in a region or in the world as a whole. By this measure, there are signs that we may be going through a period of precipitous decline in the world's cultural diversity. Research carried out by David Crystal (Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor) suggests that fewer than 10% of the languages currently spoken in the world will still be spoken in 100 years time. This rate of language death amounts to one language becoming extinct every two weeks.  
There are several international organisations that work towards protecting threatened societies and cultures, including Survival International and UNESCO. The UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, adopted by 185 Member States in 2001, represents the first international standard-setting instrument aimed at preserving and promoting cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue.
- Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions
- Cultural pluralism
- Intercultural competence
References & Bibliography
- UNESCO Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity
- International Network for Cultural Diversity
- Foundation for Endangered Languages
- Cultural Diversity in WikEd
- Diversity Central ("resources for cultural diversity at work")
- Broadcasting Regulation and Cultural Diversity
- fr:Diversité culturelle
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