UNESCO emphasizes the role of linguistic diversity for sustainable development

06 January 2017

UNESCO attended the European Language Diversity Forum, which was organized as one of the affiliated events to the European Capital of Culture 2016 Agenda on 15 and 16 December 2016 in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain. More than two hundred participants, including high level policy and decision makers, politicians, representatives of the intergovernmental organizations, experts, academia and civil society– at local, national, European and multilateral levels, gathered to reflect and discuss on the factors that have an impact on the development of European minority languages, analyzing the current difficulties, existing normative frameworks, ongoing initiatives as well as identifying opportunities for further progress.

The Forum aimed at identifying practical solutions for the languages protection and revitalization and defining new terms of action for creation of a new sustainable model of coexistence and relation between different kinds of people. The key objective was to create a large-scale opportunity for the international cooperation on specific strategies, which would enable the revitalization and standardization of languages ​​in vulnerable situations.

During his intervention, Mr Indrajit Banerjee, Director of UNESCO’s Knowledge Societies Division, Communication and Information Sector, underlined the importance of language diversity for sustainable development, as well as the rapid pace of language loss seen at the moment. He emphasized that the advent of connectivity and sophisticated information and communication platforms and technologies did not reverse this trend. On the contrary. While the Internet is considered as a primary way of sharing information and knowledge and in principle, it is open to all languages, in reality this is far from being the case. A large number of languages are still not available in online communication. The adoption of Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 focused on 17 goals should lead to greater shared prosperity and peace. Thus, language and linguistic diversity should be a central theme as it allows transmission of knowledge from generation to the next, including through the application of Information and Communication Technologies, and ensure further exploitation of scientific and technological progress for sustainable development. 

Ms Irmgarda Kasinskaite-Buddeberg, Programme Specialist, Knowledge Societies Division, presented the recently launched initiative to develop a World Atlas of Languages. She stressed that the UNESCO Atlas of Language in Danger currently includes data on 2,465 endangered languages, providing information on their status along with references to key resources. Following up on the recommendations of international expert meetings and regional conferences, the Roadmap for the development of World Atlas of Language was drawn by UNESCO to include not only all of world’s languages in danger, but apparently ‘safe’ languages as well and provide more comprehensive view on language issues for development and implementation of evidence-based initiatives. The new online tool aims to build on the previous work and expand its applicability, by constructing a global task force on multilingualism and institutional network comprising of higher educational institutions working in the language documentation field as well as language communities. This collaborative work would reflect more accurately global linguistic diversity and serve also as learning and teaching resource, as well as contribute to the policy formulation and further promotion of languages worldwide.

Among those who attended the Forum and the UNESCO’s presentations were the President of the Basque Government, Mr Íñigo Urkullu Renteria, the Minister of Culture and Language Politics in the Basque Country Mr Bingen Zubiria, and the Vice-minister for Language Policy, Patxi Baztarrika, H.E Ms Teresa de Lizaranzu Perinat, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of the Kingdom of Spain to UNESCO as well as other high level representatives of the region and city of Donostia-San Sebastian. The event was organized by the city of Donostia-San Sebastian and UNESCO Centre Basque Country (UNESCO Etxea) in collaboration with the Council of Europe.