Diversity is key! How linguistic diversity can help sustainability science

By Isabelle Andres 

We all know that diversity is important in many aspects of our lives. Politics, nature, social contacts, experiences – even in nutrition. Followingly, we also need diversity in science and knowledge production. But most of scientific literature is English, although other languages also have a lot to say. But why? Let’s explore the importance of linguistic diversity in sustainability science!

Biocultural approaches resolve around the multiple and dynamic relationships between the diversity (again: diversity…!) of culture and nature. This means that they emphasize the interconnections of humans and their environments, creating biocultural diversity: the mutual adaptations between humans, non-humans, and their local environments. Examples of what biocultural approaches include are the diversity of cultural values, knowledge systems, and ways in which people live with and manage nature.

Just as this blog post, most scientific publications are in English – because it’s our global scientific language, allowing “easy” communication among scientists and with the public. However, this predominant pattern of knowledge production overlooks linguistic diversity of science production. Other languages also have a lot to say! Especially Spanish scientific literature has worked a lot on the topic of biocultural approaches. It could add much value to the existing (English) knowledge and therefore help to cope with sustainability challenges. If only the English literature didn’t overshadow it…

But there’s hope – and the suggestion is quite “simple”: Linguistic diversity is essential for scientific knowledge production as it assures broad and balanced evidence. It adds more perspectives to the existent knowledge to successfully deal with sustainability issues.  Thus, it is also crucial for the exploration of biocultural approaches and in the way through which relationships between people and nature are interpreted. Linguistic diversity just gives us more options to tackle the problems English literature already addresses in sustainability science. So why not include non-English (e.g. Spanish) publications in our research and complement the existing English literature?

Let’s add a little more diversity to science and knowledge production! And while we’re at it… why not be more diverse in other aspects of our lives? Some ideas: Eat as diverse as possible, add some biodiversity to your garden by planting different plants, try something new every once in a while, get your information about anything from diverse sources, … There’s so much more to life than just one perspective!

If you want to explore this topic further, you can find the whole paper here.

Díaz-Reviriego, I., Hanspach, J., Torralba, M. et al. Appraising biocultural approaches to sustainability in the scientific literature in Spanish. Ambio 53, 499–516 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-023-01969-3

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