Sign languages in UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger Project

This project helped to put endangered sign languages ‘on the map’ thanks to a collaboration with UNESCO and the Foundation for Endangered Languages. 


The online interactive atlas, as well as the book version of the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger contain information on approximately 2,500 endangered languages, including hundreds of extinct languages.

With this project, we mapped endangered sign languages for the first time using the same rigorous method as UNESCO and the peer review of a number of sign language experts.

Survey Adaptation

Starting in 2011, Prof Zeshan took a lead in adapting UNESCO’s Endangered Languages Survey, to create a new version of the questionnaire which has been used for the past two years as a tool for systematic data collection on sign language endangerment, and the data are being analysed by a dedicated academic committee at iSLanDS.

Feedback and comments from numerous peer reviewers across the globe, including the WFD Expert Committee on Sign Languages and academics in the European Science Foundation’s consortium project on Endangered Sign Languages in Village Communities, was sought and implemented in this adaptation process.

First Results

After data collection, we submitted the results to the Foundation for Endangered Languages (FEL) in several distinct batches for future inclusion in the Atlas. The sign languages we have analysed so far, whose locations are shown in the map above, are listed below with their respective vitality levels and the names of our valued contributors, who have each provided incredibly detailed data on their sign language through our questionnaire. We are very grateful to all of these individuals and organisations for making this project possible by giving generously of their time and expertise. Levels of endangerment are graded as follows: 1 = Critically endangered; 2 = Severely endangered; 3 = Definitely endangered; 4 = Vulnerable.