Optimistic estimates suggest that at least 50 percent of today’s spoken languages will be extinct or seriously endangered by 2100. More pessimistic, but also realistic estimates claim that 90-95 percent will become extinct or seriously endangered by the end of this century. Most of these languages are Indigenous languages. Humanity may well have only 300-600 oral languages left that are unthreatened by the end of this century.
Since its establishment, the Permanent Forum has drawn attention to the critical situation of Indigenous Peoples. The Forum has repeatedly called for constitutional and legal recognition of Indigenous languages, preservation and revitalization of Indigenous languages and ensuring adequate funding for this, support for Indigenous universities, and ensuring that Indigenous languages are adequately included as one of the indicators to identify Indigenous persons when undertaking censuses. There have been calls for a convention to protect Indigenous languages, accountability for the deliberate destruction of Indigenous languages and increased participation of Indigenous Peoples in standard setting activities, policy development and implementation related to the legal instruments of UNESCO that are intended to protect our common cultural heritage. Based on recommendations of the Permanent Forum, the UN Department of Economic Affairs has organized two international expert group meetings in 2008 and 2016 to consider the situation of Indigenous languages. The outcomes of the two expert group meetings have informed the work of the Forum over the past six years.
Bearing in mind that the revitalization of Indigenous languages requires sustained effort by Indigenous Peoples, Members States and the United Nations system, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues recommended the General Assembly to proclaim an International Decade on Indigenous Languages in 2019 (see E/C.19/2019/10, para 22). As recommended by the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the UN General Assembly proclaimed in 2019 through Resolution A/74/396 the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032).
The Permanent Forum believes that the International Decade provides a unique opportunity for creating sustainable changes in complex social dynamics for the preservation, revitalization and promotion of Indigenous languages.
The Permanent Forum welcomed the establishment of a Global Task Force for the International Decade. The Global Task Force will provide strategic direction and oversight in preparing, planning, implementing and monitoring progress made towards attaining the objectives established on the Global Action Plan for the Decade. Three members of the Permanent Forum are part of the Global Task Force, one in the Steering Committee and two in the Advisory Group.
The Forum believes that to achieve a successful International Decade, it is vital to ensure the worldwide engagement of Indigenous Peoples, States, the UN system and other relevant stakeholders. (see E/C.19/2021/10, para. 55)
More information can be found on the UNESCO dedicated webpage for the Decade, click here.
International Year of Indigenous Languages 2019
The proposal for an international year was raised at the expert group meeting held in January 2016 and taken up by the Permanent Forum at its fifteenth session. The Forum recommended that the General Assembly, by 2020, proclaim an international year of Indigenous languages and draw attention to the critical loss of Indigenous languages and the urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote Indigenous languages and to take further urgent steps at the national and international levels (see E/2016/43-E/C.19/2016/11, para. 11).
In paragraph 13 of its resolution 71/178, the General Assembly proclaimed the year beginning on 1 January 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages, to draw attention to the critical loss of Indigenous languages and the urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote Indigenous languages and to take further urgent steps at the national and international levels, and invited UNESCO to serve as the lead agency for the Year, in collaboration with other relevant agencies, within existing resources.
On 1 February 2019, the President of the 73rd session of the General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, convened a High-Level Event to mark the global launch of the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages in New York, in line with 2018 General Assembly resolution 73/156.