Message from Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of International Mother Language Day, February 2022

⏰ 2 Minutes

When he expresses his desire to reacquaint himself with his language, Hamet, the boy created by the writer Diadié Dembélé, is expressing a universal and fundamental need.

Indeed, every language has a certain rhythm, a certain way of approaching things, of thinking about them. Learning or forgetting a language is thus not merely about acquiring or losing a means of communication. It is about seeing an entire world either appear or fade away.

From the very first day of school, many schoolchildren have the ambivalent experience of discovering one language – and the world of ideas which comes with it – and forgetting another one: the language they have known since infancy. Worldwide, four out of ten students do not have access to education in the language they speak or understand best; as a result, the foundation for their learning is more fragile.

This distancing from the mother tongue affects us all, for linguistic diversity is a common good. And the protection of linguistic diversity is a duty.

Technology can provide new tools for protecting linguistic diversity. Such tools, for example, facilitating their spread and analysis, allow us to record and preserve languages which sometimes exist only in oral form. Put simply, they make local dialects a shared heritage.

However, because the Internet poses a risk of linguistic uniformization, we must also be aware that technological progress will serve plurilingualism only as long as we make the effort to ensure that it does. The designing of digital tools in several languages, the supporting of media development, and the supporting of access to connectivity: all this needs to be done so that people can discover different languages without giving up their respective mother tongues.

The International Decade of Indigenous Languages, which began this year, should, by channelling the efforts of researchers, broadcasters, and speakers, give new momentum to the protection of these invaluable repositories of know-how and worldviews. As the lead agency for Decade-related work, UNESCO is fully committed to this cause.

On this international day, I thus call on everyone able to do so to defend linguistic and cultural diversity, which makes up the universal grammar of our shared humanity.