Indigenous Languages Important for the Humanity

Indigenous Languages Important for the Humanity

In a bid to draw global attention on the critical situation of many indigenous languages and to mobilize stakeholders and resources for their preservation, revitalization and promotion, the United Nations launched the International Decade of Indigenous Languages to help them survive, and protect them from extinction.


UN General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi said that preserving their languages is not only important for them, but for all humanity.

“With each indigenous language that goes extinct, so too goes the thought: the culture, tradition and knowledge it bears. That matters because we are in dire need of a radical transformation in the way we relate to our environment,” he said

Indigenous people make up less than six per cent of the global population but speak more than 4,000 of the world’s roughly 6,700 languages, according to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). 


The UN estimates that more than half of all languages will become extinct by the end of this century.

Indigenous peoples are guardians to almost 80 per cent of the world’s remaining biodiversity, he said, citing data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 

“Yet every two weeks, an indigenous language dies,”  Kőrösi remarked.  “This should ring our alarms.” 

The President urged countries to work with indigenous communities to safeguard their rights, such as access to education and resources in their native languages, and to ensure that they and their knowledge are not exploited. 

“And perhaps most importantly, meaningfully consult indigenous peoples, engaging with them in every stage of decision-making processes,” he advised. 


During the launch, indigenous persons and UN Ambassadors – sometimes one and the same – made the case for protection and preservation. 

Language is more than just words, said Mexican Ambassador Juan Ramón de la Fuente, speaking on behalf of the 22-member Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples. 

“It is at the essence of the identity of its speakers and the collective soul of its peoples. Languages embody the history, culture and traditions of people, and they are dying at an alarming rate,” he warned. 

Leonor Zalabata Torres, an Arhuaco woman and Colombia’s UN Ambassador said “language is the expression of wisdom and cultural identity, and the instrument that gives meaning to our daily reality that we inherited from our ancestors.”

“Unfortunately, linguistic diversity is at risk, and this has been caused by the dramatic reduction of the use and the accelerated replacement of indigenous languages by the languages of the majority societies,” she said.

 Zalabata Torres reported that the Colombian government has underlined its commitment to implementing the 10-year plan on indigenous languages, which is centred around pillars that include strengthening, recognition, documentation and revitalization. 

For Arctic indigenous communities, language is critical to political, economic, social, cultural and spiritual rights, said representative Aluki Kotierk. “In fact, every time an indigenous person utters a word in an indigenous language, it is an act of self-determination,” she said.

However, Kotierk said native tongues and dialects “are in various levels of vitality”.

Mariam Wallet Med Aboubakrine, a doctor from Mali, who advocates for indigenous peoples in Africa, particularly the Tuareg, urged countries “to deliver linguistic cultural justice to indigenous peoples”, which will only contribute to reconciliation and lasting peace. 

She expressed hope that the International Decade will culminate with the adoption of a UN Convention “so that every indigenous woman can cradle and comfort her baby in her language; every indigenous child can play in their language; every young person and adult can express themselves and work in security in their language, including in digital spaces, and to ensure that every elder can transmit their experience in their language.”


The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the period between 2022 and 2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. The International Decade aims at ensuring indigenous peoples’ right to preserve, revitalize and promote their languages, and mainstreaming linguistic diversity and multilingualism aspects into the sustainable development efforts. It offers a unique opportunity to collaborate in the areas of policy development and stimulate a global dialogue in a true spirit of multi-stakeholder engagement, and to take necessary for the usage, preservation, revitalization and promotion of indigenous languages around the world.


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