context: languages are not only tools of communication, they also reflect a view of the world. They are vehicles of value systems and of cultural expressions. “We have on this wonderful planet something like 6,800 different languages, 2,500 of these are on the Red List Of Endangered Languages. They are losing their ecological context, which in turn means you lose indigenous knowledge in such areas as wildlife and sustainable agriculture. This knowledge is of the utmost interest to us all, not for nostalgic or sentimental reasons, but as an insurance policy for the future.” (Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme, April 2001).
red list: languages are not only tools of communication, they also reflect a view of the world. They are vehicles of value systems and of cultural expressions. Unfortunately, today a part of this rich heritage is under risk of extinction:
over 50% of the world’s 6,800 languages are endangered;
one language disappears on average every two weeks;
90% of the world’s languages are not represented on the Internet.
celebrating diversity: celebrated annually on February 21, ‘International Mother Language Day’ aims to promote the recognition and practice of the world’s mother tongues, particularly minority ones. UNESCO member states are helping to protect and revitalise our rich cultural diversity by promoting language as a means of communication, interaction and understanding among different peoples.
“Languages are at the heart of humanity’s intangible heritage. They are born, they evolve and, sometimes, they are doomed to die. Yet, it behoves us to do all in our power to safeguard them so as to preserve the world’s invaluable cultural diversity. To this end and to rise to the challenge of multilingualism, UNESCO supports language policies that promote mother tongues,” says Koïchiro Matsuura, UNESCO’s Director-General.
Moreover, research shows that mother-tongue instruction, combined with the majority language, gives the best results at school and fosters children's cognitive development and learning ability. Both children and adults can learn a new language without it being at the expense of another language.
partnership: within the framework of its Endangered Languages Programme, UNESCO entered into partnership with Discovery Communications, Inc. and the UN Works Programme to produce a series of short-form programmes on various endangered languages throughout the world. The purpose of this project is to raise awareness of language endangerment and disappearance, and the need to safeguard our linguistic diversity.
Eighteen endangered languages and locations were identified, in close consultation and co-operation with experts and the governments of the countries concerned. The vignettes were aired globally on the Discovery Channel on the occasion of the 2003 and 2004 editions of International Mother Language Day. The stories were filmed in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Croatia, Gabon, Guatemala, India, Japan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Panama, Scotland, South Africa and Sweden. “Promoting respect for diversity is a vital part of the United Nations global mission,” said Shashi Tharoor, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.
“The UN Works’ media partnership with Discovery and UNESCO will educate audiences around the world about the importance of preserving endangered languages that give voice to humanity’s rich cultural heritage. When the world loses a language we lose part of ourselves”. Mr Tharoor added.