International Year of Indigenous Languages

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Languages are vital to communities and people around the globe. They have implications for cultural identity, communication, social integration, development, education, and access to information. People’s history, cultural heritage and traditions are transmitted intergenerationally through languages.

There are nearly 7,000 languages spoken worldwide, many of which are indigenous. Such rich linguistic diversity contributes to the preservation of cultural identity and indigenous knowledge. But despite their importance and value, nearly 2,700 of indigenous languages are in danger of disappearing, according to UN officials.


IYIL 2019


In order to raise awareness for this problem, the United Nations declared 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages and requested the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to be the lead organization.

UNESCO worked with governments, indigenous peoples’ organizations, researchers and other stakeholders to elaborate an action plan to foster and protect indigenous languages and improve the lives of those who speak them.

In this action plan we can read that:

The loss of an indigenous language can (…) mean the loss of vital knowledge which could be harnessed for human improvement and sustainable development. Consequently, the disappearance of a language implies a huge negative impact upon the indigenous culture concerned, as well as on global cultural diversity.


Thematic areas in the action plan


The initiative will take the form of a yearlong series of activities clustered around three key terms: support, access and promotion of indigenous languages.

  • Support for the revitalization and maintenance of indigenous languages, using language and communications technologies, where appropriate, in order to improve everyday use of indigenous languages;
  • Access to education, information and knowledge in and about indigenous languages for indigenous children, young people and adults;
  • Promotion of the knowledge areas and values of indigenous peoples and cultures, applying relevant methods of communication and information, as well as cultural practices (e.g. traditional sports and games) which can provide empowerment for indigenous language speakers.


Impact expected


Member States, indigenous peoples, civil society, public institutions, and the private sector are expected to make concrete commitments to support and promote indigenous languages. That includes offering financial support. The overall impact is expected to include:

  • Global focus on and respect for linguistic diversity and indigenous languages;
  • empowerment of indigenous peoples and tribes to ensure better transmission of indigenous languages to future generations;
  • adoption of policy frameworks, legislation and other benchmarks that reduce inequalities and mitigate discrimination against speakers of indigenous languages;
  • making available appropriate tools, such as traditional sports, games and other initiatives which help in the transmission of indigenous languages.


Get involved


From organizations to individuals, everyone is invited to get involved in making IYIL 2019 a success. Throughout the year, different stakeholders with take actions and participate in events to promote and protect the right of indigenous peoples to preserve and develop their languages.

You can register by filling out a form. Once confirmed, you can take actions such as: develop a project; create a community; suggest tools and solutions; establish partnerships; run webinars; offer training; or provide financial support.


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