Languages Express and Shape the Way We Understand the World

Guangchun Gangmei, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact
Friday, August 9, 2019

On International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, Guangchun Gangmei of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, shares with us the importance of preserving indigenous languages, as they play a crucial role in the daily lives of people.

There are about 7,000 languages existing today and according to linguistic studies, the majority of these have been developed and spoken by Indigenous Peoples, representing the greater part of the world's cultural diversity.

According to UNESCO, 600 languages have disappeared in the last century and it continues at the rate of one language loss in every two weeks. About 97% of the world’s population speaks only 4 percent of these languages, while only 3 percent of the world speaks 96% of all remaining languages. A great majority of those languages, spoken mainly by indigenous peoples, will continue to disappear at an alarming rate. This presents an alarming situation especially for the Indigenous Peoples as our languages shape our identity, history, culture, traditions and memory. Valuable ethnographic and cultural information will disappear when a language is lost.

Many Indigenous languages are disappearing due to cultural and political oppression, the process of assimilation, enforced relocation, lack of access to education, poverty, illiteracy, migration and other forms of discrimination and human rights violations. The new generations are losing out on the rich diversity of their own culture, as they vie for popular culture and fear for prejudice against minorty languages.

Despite this mighty process of globalisation and crony capitalism, Indigenous Peoples are taking steps in revitalising, preserving and promoting their languages and culture through mother tongue education, and the promotion of multi-lingual education.

However, this onus should not be carried by Indigenous Peoples alone. We need governments to take concrete steps to include this preservation in their policies and programmes. International communities must support and strengthen the distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions of Indigenous Peoples.

I strongly believe that without mutual respect, the vision and efforts to build sustainable communities and futures will be futile. We have to put in our collective effort to build a world where every culture co-exists in peaceful harmony.