UNESCO Declares 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages

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Indigenous Languages

In Paris this past Monday, UNESCO commenced their official global launch event for the International Year of Indigenous Languages – proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly back in October 2018.

UNESCO’s agenda for this International Year is to promote international cooperation through a year-long celebration, including efforts from an array of cultural leaders dedicated to preserving and revitalizing indigenous languages.

The celebration aims to raise awareness of indigenous languages, and their importance to economic, political, and social development.

Why Preserving Indigenous Languages is Imperative

According to UNCESCO, there are currently 2,464 languages in danger of becoming extinct in the world today. Unfortunately, many languages disappear after a culture is displaced politically, socially, or economically by a more dominant culture.

After the tragic loss of thousands of languages over human history, why is it so important to preserve our remaining indigenous languages and cultures?

Sharing Knowledge

The knowledge stored in an indigenous language holds secrets to that culture’s identity, and its unique perspective of the world around it. It is estimated that one indigenous language dies every 2 weeks with the death of the last native speaker of that language.

Native speakers of indigenous languages provide a valuable source of information on local animal and plant species and their ecosystems – much of which has not yet been documented by scientists.

Indigenous languages hold a unique body of knowledge on an array of subjects such as geography, astronomy, botany, zoology, psychology, navigation, and so much more. Each language gives insight into that culture’s framework for thinking and problem solving.

Tragically, when a language dies, all of that knowledge is lost and no longer available to the world.

Sharing Culture

Languages are conduits of human heritage and culture spanning thousands of years. A culture’s language is the most authentic way to communicate its traditional songs, stories, and history.

Indigenous languages and cultures add rich diversity in art, music, stories, poems, and so much more in this multicultural world, and it is imperative that we celebrate and embrace that diversity by protecting these languages.

UNESCO’s Action Plan for the International Year of Indigenous Languages aims to preserve that diversity by calling for collaborative efforts by all stakeholders to achieve positive impact and social change regarding indigenous languages and their communities.

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