Languages are not only tools of communication, they also reflect a view of the world. Languages are vehicles of value systems and cultural expressions and are an essential component of the living heritage of humanity. Yet, many of them are in danger of disappearing. More than 50 percent of the approximately 7,000 languages spoken in the world are likely to die out within a few generations, and 96 percent of these languages are spoken by a mere 4 percent of the world’s population. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given pride of place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.
International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by UNESCO’s General Conference in November 1999. The International Day has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.
Constituting an essential part of an ethnic community, mother language is a carrier of values and knowledge, very often used in the practice and transmission of intangible cultural heritage. The spoken word in mother language is important in the enactment and transmission of virtually all intangible heritage, especially in oral traditions and expressions, songs and most rituals. Using their mother tongue, bearers of specific traditions often use highly specialised sets of terms and expressions, which reveal the intrinsic depth oneness between mother tongue and the intangible cultural heritage
Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and planet. Yet, due to globalisation processes, they are increasingly under threat or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost.
The International Year of Languages comes at a time when linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened. Language is fundamental to communication of all kinds, and it is communication that makes change and development possible in human society. Using — or not using — certain languages today can open a door, or close it, for large segments of society in many parts of the world.
In the meantime, there is growing awareness that languages play a vital role in development, in ensuring cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, but also in strengthening co-operation and attaining quality education for all, in building inclusive knowledge societies and preserving cultural heritage, and in mobilizing political will for applying the benefits of science and technology to sustainable development.
“International Mother Language Day, devoted this year to multilingual education, is also an opportunity to mobilise for the Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular SDG 4, to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning. Education and information in the mother language is absolutely essential to improving learning and developing confidence and self-esteem, which are among the most powerful engines of development.” Irina Bokova Said.
|Degree of endangerment||Intergenerational Language Transmission|
|safe||language is spoken by all generations; intergenerational transmission is uninterrupted >> not included in the Atlas|
|vulnerable||most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home)|
|definitely, endangered||children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home|
|severely endangered||language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves|
|critically endangered||the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently|
|extinct||there are no speakers left >> included in the Atlas if presumably extinct since the 1950s|