International Congress of Endangered Languages at Risk begins in advance of UNESCO's High-Level Event

Traditional indigenous ceremony, during the opening of the International Congress on Languages at Risk.

UNESCO and Mexico reiterate their commitment towards language diversity for a sustainable development and leaving no one behind


Mexico City, February 25, 2020 -. Moving towards societies of cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity is one of the main challenges at the national and international level to guarantee inclusion and respect for human rights such as education, in addition to allowing a response to the most urgent problems of humanity, such as the preservation of the environment - highlighted officials and representatives of indigenous peoples, during the inauguration of the International Congress of Languages at Risk, a prelude to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) High-Level Event "Making a Decade of Action for Indigenous Languages".

In an appeal that captured the public's attention, Kichwa Cotopaxi and Otavalo indigenous activist Ninari Chimba Santillan called for living languages from the heart to position the need for their preservation since, with their loss, "biodiversity dies, food sufficiency ends”.

Natalia Toledo, poet and Undersecretary for Cultural Diversity at the Ministry of Culture stressed the historical debt to indigenous languages, pointing out that "language gave birth to us and opened our eyes to the world". She set the urgency for diversity to fight racism, exclusion and linguistic displacement that different languages, like indigenous ones, fight.

Adelfo Regino, Director of the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI), explained some actions undertaken by the Mexican nation, such as the strengthening of community and indigenous radio stations, in which UNESCO cooperates to promote their sustainability and facilitate their access to concessions. The modification of Article 3 of the Constitution, so that indigenous languages are integrated into the curricula. The establishment of an indigenous language university and the construction of labour regulations so that workers in public institutions with a mandate for indigenous peoples and those with a presence in these communities speak at least one of the languages of these peoples.

The UNESCO Representative in Mexico, Frédéric Vacheron, highlighted Mexico's role in achieving the proclamation of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages and positioning its revitalization as part of the international agenda. He reiterated the Office's commitment to reduce the risk of disappearance faced by 40% of the more than 7,000 languages spoken in the world, according to estimates by the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Therefore, he stressed that actions in favour of linguistic diversity must be multilateral and multisectoral, for example, to democratize the Internet, preserve cultural expressions, related to the field of oral traditions and expressions, in addition to the conservation of biodiversity, which is closely linked to indigenous peoples.

The International Congress of Endangered Languages at Risk, organized by the Ministry of Culture, and the UNESCO High-Level Event mark the beginning of work towards the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032) and the closing of the International Year of Indigenous Languages 2019, during which Mexico held 300 activities in 29 states, covering the 68 indigenous languages that still exist, said Juan Gregorio Regino, Director General of the National Institute of Indigenous Languages (INALI), highlighting efforts to reverse the monolingualism that different nations have faced and move towards the celebration of diversity, towards multicultural, multilingual and inclusive societies.

At the end of the inaugural ceremony, the keynote presentation "Linguistic diversity: global challenges, local challenges" was given by specialist Irmgarda Kasinskaite of UNESCO's Communication and Information Sector, who mentioned that there is still a binding relationship between indigenous peoples and poverty, so to achieve sustainable development, decisive actions are required by the languages and communities of these peoples, particularly in favour of women.

For example, the full integration of indigenous languages into the Global Agenda requires pursuing positive change in the lives of indigenous peoples, investing in the human capital of these communities and considering empowerment from a perspective of "thinking globally, acting locally," said Kasinskaite, highlighting UNESCO's role that ranges from promoting the creation of normative tools to accompanying the implementation of specific initiatives.

Some data on indigenous languages

  • About 40% of the world's inhabitants do not have access to education in the language they speak or understand.
  • Of the more than 7,000 languages that exist in the world, only 10 represent more than 80% of the linguistic presence on the Internet, with English and Chinese as the dominant languages, used by more than half of the world's Internet users.
  • Of the 489 elements registered on the Representative List of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity, 256 have as part of their record the area of oral traditions and expressions.
  • Of the 12 countries considered "megadiverse", nine of them have the largest number of languages in the world, including Mexico.
  • In Mexico, one third of the Natural Protected Areas at the Federal level include indigenous territories and 47.5% of the total surface of the areas voluntarily dedicated to conservation corresponds to indigenous territories.