The idea to celebrate International Mother Language Day was the initiative of Bangladesh. It was approved at the 1999 UNESCO General Conference and has been observed throughout the world since 2000. Since then, this day has been observed every year to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.
Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education, and development, are of strategic importance for people and planet. Yet, due to globalization 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.
At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.
Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance, and dialogue.
Every two weeks a language disappears taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage.
Linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages disappear. Globally 40 percent of the population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand. Nevertheless, progress is being made in mother tongue-based multilingual education with a growing understanding of its importance, particularly in early schooling, and more commitment to its development in public life.
Multilingual and multicultural societies exist through their languages which transmit and preserve traditional knowledge and cultures in a sustainable way.
Message from the Director-General UNESCO
“Indigenous peoples have always expressed their desire for education in their own languages, as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Since 2019 is the International Year of Indigenous Languages, the theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day will be indigenous languages as a factor in development, peace, and reconciliation.
Indigenous peoples number some 370 million and their languages account for the majority of the approximately 7,000 living languages on Earth. Many indigenous peoples continue to suffer from marginalization, discrimination, and extreme poverty and are the victims of human-rights violations (...). On this International Mother Language Day, I thus invite all UNESCO Member States, our partners, and education stakeholders to recognize and enforce the rights of indigenous peoples."
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