Linguistic diversity contributes to the promotion of cultural identity and diversity, and to intercultural dialogue. It is equally important in achieving quality education for all, building inclusive knowledge societies and preserving cultural and documentary heritage. Furthermore, it ensures the continued intergenerational transmission of indigenous knowledge, which is vital to addressing global challenges.
Despite their immense value, languages around the world continue to disappear at alarming rates. This is a cause for serious concern. According to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, no less than 40 per cent of the estimated 6,700 languages spoken as of 2016 were in danger of disappearing Saving indigenous languages is a matter of great urgency and is crucial to ensuring the protection of the cultural identity and dignity of indigenous peoples and safeguarding their traditional heritage. United Nations has stressed that the loss of indigenous languages signifies not only the loss of traditional knowledge but also the loss of cultural diversity, undermining the identity and spirituality of the community and the individual.
The UN has stated that aside from the basic right to maintain and use their own languages, indigenous peoples’ language rights include the right to be educated in their mother tongue, the right to have indigenous languages recognized in constitutions and laws, the right to live free from discrimination on the grounds of language and the right to establish and have access to media in indigenous languages.
NAM shares such concerns regarding the need to protect indigenous languages and has stressed that survival and development of indigenous languages will require the will and efforts of indigenous peoples as well as the implementation of supportive policy, especially in the field of education, on the part of Member States. NAM welcomed the adoption of General Assembly Resolution 71/178 of 19 December 2016 which decided to proclaim 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Language (IYIL) to draw world attention to the critical loss of indigenous languages and the urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote indigenous languages and to take further urgent steps at the national and international levels. The Resolution expressed concerns at the vast number of endangered languages, in particular, indigenous languages, and stressed that, despite the continuing efforts, there was an urgent need to preserve, promote and revitalize endangered languages.
The Resolution recognised the need to revitalize the histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literature of indigenous people. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) served as the lead agency for the Year of Indigenous languages, in collaboration with other relevant agencies.
The IYIL2019 aimed to mobilize stakeholders to act in five key areas: 1) Increasing understanding, reconciliation and international cooperation; 2) Creating favourable conditions for knowledge-sharing and dissemination of good practices; 3) Integrating indigenous languages into a standard setting; 4) Empowering through capacity building; and 5) Elaborating new knowledge to foster growth and development.
NAM Member States have taken important measures in their national capacities to protect the indigenous languages. The Government of India has initiated a Scheme known as “Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages of India”. Under this Scheme, the Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL), Mysore works on protection, preservation and documentation of all the mother tongues/languages of India spoken by less than 10,000 speakers keeping in mind the degree of endangerment and reduction in the domains of usage.
NAM has appreciated the decision of the XXVI Iberoamerican Summit – the objective of the meeting is to establish a dialogue of knowledge and practical innovating and effective institutions for the revitalization of the indigenous languages of Latin America and the Caribbean – to create the Iberoamerican Institute of Indigenous languages aimed to implement measures for the preservation, transmission and development of Indigenous languages.