“Our roots, our language!

A Statement by Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact on International Mother Language Day, 2021

AIPP theme: “Our roots, our language!

Mother tongue education for our future!”

Commemorating the importance of mother language and its promotion, preservation and protection the International Mother Language Day is observed worldwide on 21 February every year after it was first announced by UNESCO on 17 November 1999 and formally recognized by United Nations General Assembly with the adoption of UN resolution 56/262 in 2002. This year the 22nd International Mother Language Day is being observed with the theme “Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society,” recognizes that languages and multilingualism can advance inclusion, and the Sustainable Development Goals’ focus on leaving no one behind.

Language is the wheel of the society, it is our identity, and culture. It is through language the world communicates with each other. We preserve tradition, customs, history and memory in language. Through this we build our future.   All the languages in the world have equal importance, but mother language holds special place in heart of every individual. Because it is believed and established fact that education, based on the first language or mother tongue, must begin from the early years as early childhood care and education is the foundation of learning.

The World Language Mapping System (WLMS) Version 19 states that there are some 7100 known languages group in the world, among them majority is spoken by the Indigenous Peoples. In Asia alone, 32% or 2300 language is spoken by people where the majority of the Indigenous population live. They have the greater cultural diversity and have created and spoke larger number of languages existing in the world. The cultural diversity and richness have given the Indigenous Peoples a distinctive and classic identity. 

 But, at the same time it is matter of great concern that we are losing language at alarming rate of one language per two weeks. It is estimated by Linguist that by the end of century it will fall to thousands or hundreds if not checked. Indigenous languages stand the chance of language loss highly by the dominant language in the society. Indigenous peoples’ oral tradition and knowledge lives and dies with the knowledge holders as there is no written practice or knowledge. Therefore, the Indigenous Peoples’ language who are minority by number are more vulnerable to lose the language. This could be serious problem with great humanistic and scientific consequences. The factors that affect languages can be economic, social, cultural, religious, political, military or combine of all these. All these factors have very much relevance to the situation of Indigenous Peoples across the nations.

The celebration of International Mother Language Day this year also holds special importance since UNESCO had declared 2019 as International Year of Indigenous Language (IYIL) and the United Nations proclaimed the International Decade of Indigenous Language (IDIL) from 2022-2032. The IYIL 2019 and IDIL 2022-2032 is purposed with five basic objectives to start the preservation and promotion of Indigenous Language.

  1. Increasing understanding, reconciliation and international cooperation.
  2. Creation of favorable conditions for knowledge-sharing and dissemination of good practices with regards to indigenous languages.
  3. Integration of indigenous languages into standard setting.
  4. Empowerment through capacity building.
  5. Growth and development through elaboration of new knowledge.

The declaration is a ray of hope for the Indigenous Peoples across the globe to preserve and promote the vital aspects of their culture and identity as it has received the strong support from range of stake holders. This can generate new ideas and help build the long-term strategy to counter the negative impacts of language loss as Indigenous peoples are the wide range of knowledge holders and speakers of most of the languages. This effort also contributes to the 2019 Cali commitment to equity and inclusion in education and the United Nations International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032), for which UNESCO is the lead agency, and which places multilingualism at the heart of indigenous peoples’ development.

AIPP celebrates this auspicious occasion of International Mother Language Day emphasizing the need of special attention to Indigenous Languages, and calling on the government, UN agencies and other stake holders to commit and create enabling situation, support the effort and foster the multiculturalism with inclusive vision contextualizing with COVID-19 recovery.   

At the end, let us resound the words of Assembly of First Nation (AFN) national chief Perry Bellegarde who is a defiant supporter of declaration of the Decade of Indigenous Language, he said, “The International Decade of Indigenous Languages demonstrates a strong international commitment to restore, support, and strengthen Indigenous languages. Our languages are our identity, our wisdom, our worldview. They must not be lost”.

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