UNESCO honours mother tongues

26-02-2019 02:07 PM

Antoun Milad

UNESCO has marked its 18th International Mother Language Day with a reminder to the world of how significant mother tongues are.

On its website, the UN organisation alerted to the fact that “when a language disappears, it takes with it an entire culture and intellectual heritage”. It called on all people to stand together to make sure indegineous languages are preserved. “Celebrate your language with pride” it cheered.

UNESCO went on to explain that the idea to celebrate International Mother Language Day was the initiative of Bangladesh. It was approved at the 1999 UNESCO General Conference and has been observed throughout the world since 2000.

“UNESCO believes in the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity for sustainable societies. It is within its mandate for peace that it works to preserve the differences in cultures and languages that foster tolerance and respect for others.

“Linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages disappear. Globally 40 per cent of the population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand. Nevertheless, progress is being made in mother tongue-based multilingual education with growing understanding of its importance, particularly in early schooling, and more commitment to its development in public life.

“Multilingual and multicultural societies exist through their languages which transmit and preserve traditional knowledge and cultures in a sustainable way.”

A Message from UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said:

“Indigenous peoples have always expressed their desire for education in their own languages, as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Since 2019 is the International Year of Indigenous Languages, the theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day will be indigenous languages as a factor in development, peace and reconciliation.
Indigenous peoples number some 370 million and their languages account for the majority of the approximately 7,000 living languages on Earth. Many indigenous peoples continue to suffer from marginalisation, discrimination and extreme poverty, and are the victims of human-rights violations (…). On this International Mother Language Day, I thus invite all UNESCO Member States, our partners and education stakeholders to recognise and enforce the rights of indigenous peoples.”

Watani International

26 February 2019


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