On December 16, 2022, the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN), Csaba Kőrösi, proclaimed the start of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, 2022-2032. The aim of the International decade is “to secure the rights of Indigenous peoples to preserve, revitalize and promote their languages.” In his speech, Kőrösi called upon the UN’s Member States to work with Indigenous communities to: “[s]afeguard [I]ndigenous peoples’ rights” to learn and access resources in their native languages; “[e]nsure that Indigenous peoples and their knowledge are not exploited…[and] meaningfully consult Indigenous peoples, engaging with them in every stage of decision-making processes.”
The Language Conservancy estimates that Indigenous languages are lost at the rate of nine languages per year and that “[b]y 2080 the rate will rise by [sixteen] languages per year – one every two weeks.” The Language Conservancy provides a series of maps that depict centuries of language loss from the 1920s to present, drawn from the research by Gary F. Simons. The “growing wave” of Indigenous language loss is caused by the impacts of colonization, the rapid development of human settlements and by choices to leave the countryside for the city. Language loss is further exacerbated by climate change, especially as Indigenous peoples are forced to migrate and resettle due to adverse climate events.
Policies and educational programs to revitalize Indigenous languages are crucial to fight language loss and to prevent more than half of all languages becoming extinct over the next century.
By Leela Viswanathan
(Image credit: Satyam HCR, Unsplash)