It is through language that we communicate with the world, define our identity, express our history and culture, learn, defend our human rights and participate in all aspects of society, to name but a few.
Through language, people preserve their community’s history, customs and traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression. They also use it to construct their future. Language is pivotal in the areas of human rights protection, good governance, peace building, reconciliation, and sustainable development.
A person’s right to use his or her chosen language is a prerequisite for freedom of thought, opinion and expression, access to education and information, employment, building inclusive societies, and other values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Many of us take it for granted that we can conduct our lives in our home languages without any constraints or prejudice. But this is not the case for everyone.
Of the almost 7,000 existing languages, the majority have been created and are spoken by indigenous peoples who represent the greater part of the world’s cultural diversity.
Yet many of these languages are disappearing at an alarming rate, as the communities speaking them are confronted with assimilation, enforced relocation, educational disadvantage, poverty, illiteracy, migration and other forms of discrimination and human rights violations.
Given the complex systems of knowledge and culture developed and accumulated by these local languages over thousands of year, their disappearance would amount to losing a kind of cultural treasure. It would deprive us of the rich diversity they add to our world and the ecological, economic and sociocultural contribution they make.
More importantly, their loss would have a huge negative impact on the indigenous cultures concerned.
It is for this reason and others that the United Nations chose to dedicate a whole year to indigenous languages, to encourage urgent action to preserve, revitalize and promote them.