Every year the UN picks a focus for the year. This year is the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL)! What are indigenous languages and why spend a whole year focusing on this topic?
As iterated numerous times on my blog, language is a powerful tool linking traditions and cultural identity, and giving individuals a platform to learn other languages. The UN decided to dedicate this year to indigenous languages to shed light on the importance of languages that are endangered or dying, and to make an effort towards indigenous reconciliation.
The Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues predicts that out of the 6700 languages that are commonly spoken today, 40% are in danger of dying. Shockingly, around the world, 4% of languages are spoken by 96% of the world’s population (Crystal, 2006). Most endangered languages are Indigenous languages which are known within and spoken by small communities. These languages hold information about traditions, allow generations to communicate with each other, and provide vocabulary on various ecological terms that may not be translatable into another language. With the separation of communities, assimilation and discrimination towards cultures and language, influences the endangerment of a language.
The UN considers language to be a “core component of human rights and fundamental freedoms and is essential to realizing sustainable development, good governance, peace and reconciliation” (United Nations Economic and Social Council, 2018) . Documentation of language, creating immersion programs and bringing awareness helps to increase cross-cultural understanding, train indigenous language teachers and support research within these languages to encourage these researchers to feel comfortable to publish and present their work in their language of choice.
The 2016 Canada census reveals that in Canada, it is estimated that there are around 75 indigenous languages with less than 2000 speakers. I hope that this year will encourage others to learn more about these languages, and will motivate young speakers to continue with their language learning.
Crystal, David. How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning, and Languages Live or Die. Woodstock, NY: Overlook, 2006. Print.
“International Year of Indigenous Languages.” UNESCO, 2019. https://en.iyil2019.org/