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Message from the Director-General on the occasion of the
International Mother Language Day

Koïchiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director-General There is a common saying in the Spanish-speaking world, Hablando, se entiende la gente, which broadly translates as "By speaking, people understand each other". Too often in our everyday lives, we take the language or languages we speak for granted. Language is so much a part of our lives and of our identities, indeed of the very way we think and behave, that we sometimes forget its basic function, that of communication and understanding. And of the languages that are spoken in the world, the most significant for our early emotional and cognitive development is that through which we first learn to name our personal universe and by means of which we begin to achieve a common understanding with our parents, family and the broader community of friends and school. It is the language of childhood, of intimate family experience and of our early social relations.

In celebration of International Mother Language Day, first observed two years ago, we honour the myriad of languages in the world, the cultures they mediate and the essence of human creativity contained in their development and expression. There are over 6,000 languages spoken in the world, each with its own complex system of sounds, meanings and grammar. To be sure, some languages are spoken by more native speakers, others have greater geographic extension in the world. While some languages are written, others are not; different languages use different kinds of writing systems, and each language has its own accompaniment of gestures, expressions and body language, a reflection in turn of cultural norms. Yet on International Mother Language Day, all languages are given equal recognition, for each is a unique response to the human condition and each is a living heritage we should cherish.

Today more than ever, let us seek understanding and recognition of other people and other cultures through respect for their languages and for the ways of thinking that these embody.

I would like to invite UNESCO's Member States to translate this message into as many of their countries' languages as is feasible.

Ko´chiro Matsuura

Also available in Chinese - French - Russian - Spanish

 

Resources
Extracts from speeches of Ministers of Education at the IBE Conference
UNESCO's Resolution, 1999
UNESCO's Declaration
Articles related to education and linguistic diversity
Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger of Disappearing
2002 Poster
Selected Documents
Links

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