Launch of the International Year of Indigenous Languages
Unesco, Paris, 28/01/2019
Intervention by Belkacem Lounes
Member (observer) of the Steering Committee of the International Year of Indigenous Languages On behalf of the CMA and African indigenous peoples network
Dear sisters, dear indigenous brothers,
Dear advocates of indigenous languages and marginalized and threatened languages,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It's really nice to see you here so many to celebrate together this exceptional event for our languages. I greet and warmly thank UNESCO and the team in charge of the Year of the Indigenous Languages for organizing this day of launch of the Year of Indigenous Languages. This day will at least shed some light on the reality of the indigenous peoples of the world and on the challenges they face so that they can be seen as a full stakeholder in the great human family.
Among the Amazighs, indigenous people of North Africa, the life of a people is based on three fundamental elements: Awal-Akal-Afgan or Amdan (the language, the land, the man or rather the human). We note that the first element of this triptych is "Awal", the language. Because indeed, the language is the first element that not only distinguishes you, which identifies you but it is also and especially it is it that allows the maintenance of social links, allows to store and transmit your memory, your stories, your songs, your beliefs, your knowledge and know-how. Language is therefore one of the main foundations of the existence of a people. And as is aptly recalled in the presentation note of this day, each language is a "unique way of knowing and apprehending the world". To lose a language is to lose a chance to see things differently, it is to lose a color of the rainbow, it is to lose a landscape, it is to see disappearing an animal or vegetable species. To lose a language is therefore an impoverishment of humanity.
This year dedicated to indigenous languages is therefore a chance, it is all the more useful as the indigenous languages are in a state of great vulnerability. Most of them are spoken languages with fewer speakers, little or no protection, and very little interest and resources. Worse than that, they are exposed to a number of threats and obstacles that need to be tackled resolutely if we want to save them. Among these threats and obstacles:
- the fact that some States consider them as competitors to the official languages of the State, that they are presented as subversive and as a threat to national unity,
- the fact that defenders and sometimes even the mere speakers of these languages are stigmatized or even criminalized,
- the negative prejudices that convey the false truths that indigenous languages are inferior to dominant languages, that indigenous languages would be incapable of teaching science, that they would be useless or even worse, a handicap for progress. This leads to parents, sometimes indigenous, refusing to let their children learn their native language. I therefore believe it is essential to conduct a vigorous worldwide campaign to combat these false, racist and dangerous ideas.
But to be fair and positive and optimistic, I would like to welcome the initiatives of intergovernmental organizations and of certain States who have become aware that indigenous languages are an additional richness that should be promoted, as well as initiatives often taken with derisory means but with great ingenuity, by indigenous organizations to make their linguistic heritage a daily reality.
Lastly, I think it is important that, like other peoples, indigenous peoples have the right to their language as affirmed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and in particular Article 13 which states that "the indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their language, oral traditions, writing systems and literature". Articles 14 and 16 indicate that "indigenous peoples have the right to establish their own school systems and media in their own language and to access education in their own language" and that "States must take effective measures to protect these rights.
The year 2019 of indigenous languages must therefore be, in my opinion, a way, a means of monitoring, the realization of the linguistic rights of indigenous peoples, in accordance with the wishes of the Assembly of United Nations. I wish this day and the Year of the Indigenous languages every success and hope that it will be an opportunity, a strong moment that will spur a new momentum in favor of the indigenous languages, with the hope that this year will be extended decade of Indigenous languages because the action to be successful must be long-term.
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