Mother Language Day participation kicks off International Year of Languages

(February 2008) Languages matter! is the theme of the United Nations-proclaimed International Year of Languages (IYL) which is being launched on International Mother Language Day, 21 February, at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France.

Part of the Paris event will be the seminar, Standard-setting Instruments Promoting Multilingualism, at which Dr. Barbara Trudell, Academic Affairs Director for SIL Africa, will present her paper, Perspectives for the Civil Society. Also representing SIL will be David Pearson, SIL representative to UNESCO and Katherine Buhler, SIL International Relations representative. In addition to the February event, SIL will be participating in various activities and conferences throughout the year that highlight IYL.

This year-long celebration adds opportunities to focus on the challenges of the nearly 7000 ethnolinguistic communities in the world and to promote language development, multilingual education and language technology.

Importance of IYL

"Far from being a field reserved for analysis by specialists, languages lie at the heart of all social, economic and cultural life. That is the meaning of the slogan launched by UNESCO for IYL: Languages matter!" announced UNESCO's Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura in his special message for International Mother Language Day.

Acknowledging the significance of IYL, Fredrick Boswell, Executive Director of SIL writes, "Speakers of the world's lesser-known languages are under pressure to adopt other languages. Without the resources to maintain their own languages, they risk losing touch with their cultural heritage. SIL welcomes the IYL as an opportunity to address the issues these communities face with the wider international community."

Other SIL participation

As lead agency in IYL, UNESCO has invited governments, United Nations organizations, civil society organizations, educational institutions, professional associations and all other stakeholders to increase their own activities to promote and protect all languages, particularly endangered languages, in all individual and collective contexts. SIL personnel are participating in these and other conferences and activities throughout 2008:

  • 4 January–23 March. Schoolbook Revision Training Workshop. UNIA, Peru
  • 5-8 February. Multilingual Education: Challenges, Perspectives, Opportunities. Delhi, India
  • 6 February. Working group to promote multilingual education. Nairobi, Kenya
  • 12-16 February. Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania. Canberra, Australia
  • 18-21 February. South-East Asia EFA Mid-Term Policy Review Conference and Launch of the 2008 Global Monitoring Report. Jomtien, Thailand
  • 19-21 February. Using the Mother Tongue as a Bridge Language of Instruction in South-East Asian Countries: Policy, Advocacy and Strategies.
  • 21 February. International Mother Tongue Day Conference. Kampala, Uganda
  • 29 March–26 April. First Philippine Linguistic Institute 2008. Manila, Philippines
  • 1-3 July. Second International Conference on Language Development, Language Revitalization and Multilingual Education in Ethnic Minority Communities. Bangkok, Thailand
  • 4-5 July. National Language Policy: Language Diversity for National Unity. Bangkok, Thailand
  • November. Linguistic Diversity in Cyberspace in the Context of Intercultural Dialogue. Barcelona, Spain

SIL and language development

SIL is involved in language development, mother-tongue-based literacy, multilingual education, language preservation and language technology. These have an impact on how the nations of the world can achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. As an international nongovernmental organization, SIL has been in special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations since 1997. SIL has worked with UNESCO since 1951 and has been in special consultative status since 1993. Such relationships provide opportunities for SIL to contribute to the global dialogue on language development. SIL is also actively engaged with partners worldwide in community training, ethnolinguistic advocacy and language policy development.

SIL—70 years of linguistic research

In its 70-year history, SIL has worked with over 2,394 language communities. Currently over 1,415 SIL language development projects are in progress. The SIL Bibliography contains nearly 30,000 references to books, journal articles, book chapters, dissertations and other academic papers about languages and cultures authored or edited by SIL staff or published by SIL.

When SIL was formed in 1934, linguists estimated that there were about 1,000 languages in the world. As language researchers continued their investigation, many more languages were documented. It is now known that nearly 7,000 languages are still spoken. The conclusions of this ongoing research have been published in a reference work called the Ethnologue: Languages of the World, found online at http://www.ethnologue.com/. A new edition of this catalog of languages is published every four years. The fifteenth edition, published in 2005, lists 6,912 languages.

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