[lg policy] Promoting multilingualism on Mother Language Day

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Feb 21 18:01:23 UTC 2010

  Promoting multilingualism on Mother Language Day
   Promoting multilingualism on Mother Language

Posted on February 21, 2010 | 0

Since 1950 at least 240 languages have died, according to the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization<http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/>(Unesco). That's a
cultural extinction rate of one language every three
months over the last 60 years. Worse news is that the language mortality
rate may be accelerating dramatically. "Half of the 6,700 languages spoken
today are in danger of disappearing before the century ends, a process that
can be slowed only if urgent action is taken by governments and speaker
communities," Unesco says on its Web site. By my math, this worst-case
scenario is an extinction rate of a language death every ten days between
now and the year 2100.

[image: map of languages with10 or fewer speakers.jpg]

This map from the Unesco Interactive Atlas of the World's Languages in
Danger <http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?pg=00139> shows the
location of more than 200 languages that have no more than 10 speakers.
The problem of disappearing tongues is clearly global.

[image: map-of-languages-with-fewer-than-100-speakers.jpg]

Unesco Interactive Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger shows the
location of the 519 languages that have no more than 100 speakers. The
online Atlas aims to provide speaker communities, policy-makers and the
general public with state-of-the-art knowledge, continually updated by a
growing network of experts and community members.Why does it matter that
fewer languages are spoken? Isn't there merit in all of us speaking the same
language? Every time we lose a language we lose human experience,
creativity, and a unique perspective of ourselves and the world. We are all
weaker every time it happens.

There is something we can do about it--and it's not only a matter of
protecting and promoting our own mother tongue. Language and cultural
experts tell us that the best way to protect human cultural diversity is to
celebrate and share it. Celebrate our own language, yes, but also learn and
respect the languages of others.

*The essence of living heritage*

The vital role of language in the expression and transmission of living
heritage was enshrined in a United Nations convention in
"All intangible cultural heritage domains--from knowledge about the universe
to rituals, performing arts to handicrafts--depend on language for their
day-to-day practice and inter-generational transmission. In the domain of
oral traditions and expressions, language is not only a vehicle of
intangible heritage, it is their very essence," Unesco says. [image:

International Mother Language Day, proclaimed by the General Conference of
UNESCO in November 1999, has been observed yearly since February 2000 to
promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The eleventh
International Mother Language
today, February 21, 2010, is being celebrated in the framework of the
International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures. An international
sympisum to discuss these matters is being held in Paris this week.

"By virtue of the numerous activities that have marked this celebration for
ten years, the importance of linguistic diversity and multilingualism is now
recognized," said Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, in a statement
on the occasion of International Mother Day Language 2010. "Over the years,
the many and essential roles played by languages in the educational,
cultural and economic fabric of our societies have come to be better
understood," Bokova added.

"The mother language, in which the first words are uttered and individual
thought expressed, is the foundation for the history and culture of each
individual. "Moreover, it has been proven that children learn best when they
are instructed in their mother language during their first years at school."

*Mother language and multilingualism*

The concept of mother language complements that of multilingualism, which
UNESCO strives to promote, by encouraging the acquisition of at least three
levels of language proficiency: a mother language, a national language and a
language of communication, Bokova said. Languages are the best vehicles of
mutual understanding and tolerance, she explained. "Respect for all
languages is a key factor for ensuring peaceful coexistence, without
exclusion, of societies and all of their members.

"Multilingualism, which can be defined as the harmonious accommodation of
different languages spoken within a common space, therefore becomes an
essential component of educational and cultural policies, to which attention
must increasingly be paid.

 "The learning of foreign languages...must be promoted as a constructive and
structural element of modern education."

"At the same time, the learning of foreign languages and, as a result, the
individual ability to use several languages encourages openness towards
diversity and understanding of other cultures. As such, it must be promoted
as a constructive and structural element of modern education." Because of
the increased pace of communication in our globalized world, translation is
enjoying a level of growth unprecedented in the history of humanity, Bokova
said. "For it to become a genuine tool for reciprocal dialogue and
knowledge, we must promote a more diversified and even more balanced context
of cultural and scientific exchange.

"Multilingualism, the learning of foreign languages and translation are
three strategic axes for the language policies of tomorrow. On the occasion
of this 11th International Mother Language Day, I am appealing to the
international community to give the mother language, in each of these three
axes, its rightful, fundamental place, in a spirit of respect and tolerance
which paves the way for peace," Bokova said.

 [image: Living Tongues logo.jpg]

The Living Tongues Institute for Endangered
Languages<http://www.livingtongues.org/>has linked up with the
National Geographic Society to form the Enduring
Voices Project, which strives to preserve endangered languages by
identifying language hotspots--the places with the most unique, poorly
understood, or threatened indigenous languages--and documenting the
languages and cultures within them. For more details, visit the Enduring
Voices Project <http://www.nationalgeographic.com/mission/enduringvoices/> Web

*You might also be interested in:*

* [image: native-american-tradition-thumb-100x70.jpg]Preserving Native
America's vanishing languages
*Greg Anderson, director of Living Tongues, talks about the disappearing
languages of the U.S. and what's been done to document, if not save them.

* [image: boa-thumb-100x70.jpg]Last Bo speaker dies, ending ancient Andaman
*The last member of a unique tribe has died on India's Andaman Islands--and
with her has gone the language known as "Bo."


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