At least 43 per cent of the estimated 6,000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.
By Baher Kamal / Inter Press Service
“Every two weeks a language disappears taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. At least 43 per cent of the estimated 6,000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.”
This shocking fact has been highlighted by the United Nations on the occasion of International Mother Language Day, marked 21 February.
Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and the planet, says the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
“Yet, due to globalisation processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost.”
Mother tongues in education
The International Mother Language Day recognises that languages and multilingualism can advance inclusion, and the Sustainable Development Goals’ focus on leaving no one behind.
UNESCO believes education, based on the first language or mother tongue, must begin from the early years as early childhood care and education is the foundation of learning.
This year’s observance is a call on policymakers, educators and teachers, parents and families to scale up their commitment to multilingual education, and inclusion in education to advance education recovery in the context of COVID-19.
A full decade for indigenous peoples’ languages
This effort also contributes to the United Nations International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032), for which UNESCO is the lead agency, and which places multilingualism at the heart of indigenous peoples’ development.
Participants at the High-level event, “Making a decade of action for indigenous languages,” on 28 February 2020 issued a strategic roadmap for the Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032) prioritising the empowerment indigenous language users, UNESCO reported.
More than 500 participants from 50 countries, including government ministers, indigenous leaders, researchers, public and private partners, and other stakeholders and experts, adopted the Los Pinos Declaration, at the end of the two-day event in Mexico City, which was organised by UNESCO and Mexico.
“Nothing for us without us”
The Declaration places indigenous peoples at the centre of its recommendations under the slogan “Nothing for us without us.”
The Declaration, designed to inspire a global plan of action for the Decade, calls for the implementation of the internationally recognized rights of indigenous peoples, expressed notably in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of 2007, the UN System-wide Action Plan (SWAP) on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of 2017, among several others.
On the verge of extinction
In its strategic recommendations for the Decade, the Los Pinos Declaration emphasises indigenous peoples’ rights to “freedom of expression, to an education in their mother tongue and to participation in public life using their languages, as prerequisites for the survival of indigenous languages many of which are currently on the verge of extinction.”
With regard to participation in public life, the Declaration highlights the importance of enabling the use of indigenous languages in justice systems, the media, labour and health programmes. It also points to the potential of digital technologies in supporting the use and preservation of those languages.
Building on the lessons learnt during the International Year of Indigenous Languages (2019), the Declaration recognises the importance of indigenous languages to social cohesion and inclusion, cultural rights, health and justice and highlights their relevance to sustainable development and the preservation of biodiversity as they maintain ancient and traditional knowledge that binds humanity with nature.
But, what is a “mother tongue”?
According to the United Nations Association – UK (UNA-UK), Your ‘mother language’, or ‘mother tongue’, is the language you spoke from earliest childhood. For most people, this is just one language but children in multilingual families may learn two simultaneously.
UNESCO considers mother languages to be an essential part of culture and identity, and carriers of values and knowledge.
They are vital to the preservation and transmission of traditions, expressions, songs, jokes and rituals, which make all our lives richer, adds the Association, which was founded in 1945, advocating for UK action at the UN; and is the UK’s leading source of analysis on the UN; with a vibrant grassroots movement of 20,000 people from all walks of life.
UNESCO recommends that countries that have a bilingual or multilingual education system (where they use one or more official languages) give its school students the opportunity to use their mother tongue as their language of instruction.
Research shows that particularly in early years education, use of a child’s mother tongue helps to create a strong foundation for learning.
“However, in some countries, a particular language might be preferred for political or cultural reasons. This can result in the domination of one language in education and other public services.”
People that don’t speak the dominant language or speak it poorly can thus be disadvantaged and in the worst cases, it can lead to discrimination in daily life, exclusion from jobs or services and even oppression, says UNA-UK. “It can also result in other languages becoming endangered and ultimately extinct.”
This piece has been sourced from Inter Press Service
Image: Danilo Valladares / Inter Press Service