Indigenous languages matter for development, good governance, peace building and reconciliation.
Indigenous languages represent complex systems of knowledge developed and accumulated over thousands of years. Local languages are cultural treasures; they are repositories of diversity and key resources for understanding local environments and harnessing their potential to the best advantage of local populations, as well as of humanity as a whole. They foster and promote local cultural specificities, customs and values.
Each indigenous language represents a unique paradigm and framework for understanding the world. Elaborate vocabularies are constructed around topics of particular ecological, economic or sociocultural importance. Knowledge is often captured or encoded in specific words and therefore is not easily transferable among languages.
The loss of an indigenous language can mean the loss of vital knowledge, which could be harnessed for human improvement and sustainable development. Consequently, the disappearance of a language implies a considerable negative impact upon the indigenous culture concerned, as well as on global cultural diversity. Unique ways of knowing and experiencing the world may disappear forever.
Reasons for the endangerment of languages vary across different communities and locations, but all represent tremendous challenges to indigenous peoples, be they assimilation, enforced relocation, educational disadvantage, illiteracy, migration or other manifestations of potential discrimination leading to the possible disappearance of a culture or language.
In practical terms, the risk is that parents and elders can no longer transmit indigenous languages to their children and that indigenous languages fall out of daily use. The issues around indigenous languages could have much broader consequences, affecting a wide range of areas, including politics, law and justice, health, cultural practices and identities, the biosphere, access to information and communications tools, etc.
The celebration of the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019) will encourage all stakeholders to respond appropriately to these challenges, by promoting and protecting the right of indigenous peoples to preserve and develop their languages.