Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mother Language Day Was 21 February

You might have missed the passing of International Mother Language Day on 21 February, but it was a big deal at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. With a "round table," a seminar and an "information workshop," the agency kicked off the International Year of Languages; its Director-General, Koïchiro Matsuura warned that "more than half the world’s 6,700 spoken languages are threatened with extinction" and that "every two weeks on average one language disappears somewhere around the world."

Even though "96 per cent of the world’s languages are spoken by only four per cent of the total population," Unesco argues that everyone should be concerned about the situation, for "when a language fades, so does a part of the world’s cultural tapestry." With every language that dies, the agency says, "opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression – valuable resources for ensuring a better future are also lost." Among the information products/activities for the year are a "synthesis report on the normative tools and principles of relevance to languages;" an updated "Endangered Languages Atlas" with an “Index Translationum;” and an "international event on existing 'good practices'.”

How exactly the languages now going extinct are "valuable resources for ensuring a better future" Unesco does not say on its web site. The contention that they "are strategically important for the attainment of several Millennium Development Goals and a precondition for the enjoyment of fundamental human rights" is not explained. The assertion that "multilingualism promotes the harmonious coexistence of local, national and international languages and thus is a factor of mutual respect, intercultural dialog and sustainable development" seems to fly in the face of much recent history.

The agency says it will pursue "cultural diversity and dialog ... through the safeguarding of linguistic diversity, notably through the intellectual, literary and poetic heritage of humanity; the formulation of national language policies focusing in particular on the introduction of mother language education in formal and non-formal systems; the promotion of languages as vehicles for the transmission of local and indigenous knowledge; and the inclusion of multiple languages and the dissemination of local content in cyberspace."

I hope that means more money and personnel to safeguard the languages of tribes clinging to life in the Amazonian rainforest; maybe the tribes themselves might be saved if there is enough of an effort.

1 comment:

Don said...

FYI, I posted a link to this entry on a list of blogs that mention the International Year of Languages.

Also, it turns out that World Poetry Day was 21 March. Koïchiro Matsuura had a statement on that as well (the link opens a PDF doc).