By Robin Gomes
The year 2019 has been declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IY2019).
The year will be officially launched at a special event on January 28 at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the lead organization coordinating the yearlong celebration.
An International Year is an important cooperation mechanism dedicated to raising awareness on a particular topic or theme of global interest or concern and mobilizing different players for coordinated action around the world.
The United Nations General Assembly in 2016 adopted a resolution proclaiming 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.
The UNESCO launched a website in August 2018, to help raise the awareness on the IY2019 and on the urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote indigenous languages around the world.
According to UN’s cultural agency, there are some 6,000-7,000 languages in the world today. About 97% of the world’s population speaks only 4 % of these languages, while only 3 % of the world speak 96% of all remaining languages.
A great majority of these languages, spoken mainly by indigenous peoples, will continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Without appropriate measure to address this issue, the further loss of languages and their associated history, traditions and memory would considerably reduce the rich tapestry of linguistic diversity worldwide.
In addition, indigenous peoples are often isolated both politically and socially in the countries they live in, by the geographical location of their communities, their separate histories, cultures, languages and traditions.
And yet, they are not only leaders in protecting the environment, but their languages represent complex systems of knowledge and communication and should be recognized as a strategic national resource for development, peacebuilding and reconciliation.
They also foster and promote unique local cultures, customs and values which have endured for thousands of years. Indigenous languages add to the rich tapestry of global cultural diversity. Without them, the world would be a poorer place.
Celebrating IYIL2019 will help promote and protect indigenous languages and improve the lives of those who speak them. It will contribute to achieving the objectives set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030.
The celebration is also expected to strengthen and reinforce the many standard-setting tools adopted by the international community which include specific provisions to promote and protect languages.
Indigenous figures in brief:
- 7 thousand: languages
- 370 million: indigenous people in the world
- 90 countries: with indigenous communities
- 5 thousand: different indigenous cultures
- 2680 languages: in danger