Images Courtesy of UNESCO
Each year UNESCO dedicates an entire year to an initiative of special significance. For example in 2017 the initiative for the year was International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies. This year UNESCO has chosen to spotlight indigenous languages and bring awareness to the dwindling numbers of speakers of the thousands of indigenous languages spoken all over the world.
When we hear the word endangered, it conjures images of animals or plants that are on the brink of extinction, we don’t think about languages. However, UNESCO reports that, of the 7 thousand languages spoken in the world, 2,680 are indigenous languages in danger of becoming extinct. According to Jason Oxenham “A dead language is a language that no longer has any native speakers, although it may still be studied by a few or used in certain contexts” (Oxenham 2016). This leads to a disappearance of indigenous cultures.
Nations like Australia, Ecuador, Estonia, France, Gambia, Saudi Arabia, and Bolivia are lending their support for this initiative, along with other professional organizations in the areas of linguistics and language education.
This year long initiative officially began on January 28, 2019, with a ceremony held at UNESCO’s world headquarters in Paris, France. Leaders and indigenous peoples gathered from all over the world to discuss the challenges to the continuation of these native languages.
To find out more about the Year of Indigenous Languages please visit https://en.iyil2019.org/
In addition, I encourage you to research indigenous languages in your area. UNESCO has created a wonderful tool, the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger http://www.unesco.org/languages-atlas/. When searching the region where I live, I discovered that one of our Native American languages, Paiute, is in danger of becoming extinct. According to UNESCO, there are only 400 speakers of the Northern Paiute language left in the world.
Oxenham, J. (2016, April 28) Why you should learn a dead language. Retrieved from: https://www.rocketlanguages.com/blog/why-you-should-learn-a-dead-language/