COCO Celebrates International Year of Indigenous Languages

This year the world celebrates the International Year of Indigenous Languages. It is celebrated to raise awareness of the importance of preserving and promoting the diversity of languages and cultures. To celebrate this, COCO will publish a blog series introducing a few of the local languages spoken in the areas where COCO works.

By Valtteri Nurminen, COCO Volunteer

The celebration of the year is organized by the United Nations, who in Resolution 71/178 called countries around the world to take action for preserving and promoting indigenous languages by proclaiming 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL).

Preserving indigenous languages is highly important as there are almost 7000 languages currently in the world but indigenous local languages are disappearing in high speed. Indeed, some estimates predict that even 95% and at least 50% of the world’s languages are going to perish by the end of the 21st century. More precisely said: one indigenous language disappears every two weeks. Thus, rapid global action to protect indigenous languages is severely needed.

The disappearance of indigenous languages has a lot to do with the supremacy of the dominant global languages. Indeed, there is not a lot of diversity in the world’s spoken languages, as half of the world’s population speak only 23 languages. Even more dramatic statistic is that: 97% of the world speaks only 4% of the languages and correspondingly 3% of the people speak 96% of all the world languages.

The role of language in people’s everyday lives is significant, as languages are an important part of one’s own identity, memory and self-expression. People communicate their needs, opinions and wishes through language. People also remember their past and build their future through language. Furthermore, the right to an own language is an important human right.

Therefore, the loss of a language is not merely a statistical or linguistic issue but it has a very big impact on the real lives of peoples. The loss of a language is at the same time, the loss of memories, knowledge, traditions and a unique way of thinking and expressing oneself – essentially, the loss of a whole culture and part of history. Thus, preserving indigenous languages is also promoting cultural diversity and the rights of indigenous people.

To do our part of preserving and promoting indigenous languages, COCO will publish a blog series in the upcoming weeks. In these blogs, we will introduce you to some of the local languages spoken in COCO’s working areas. We will teach some words and sayings in Luo, Luhya, Maasai and Swahili. These blogs will also look at the history, significance and current situation of these languages and cultures. The blogs have been made in collaboration with COCO’s local representatives and project partners.

If you would like to learn how to say “hi” in Swahili or “how are you?” in Maasai and other interesting and useful sayings in different East African languages, stay tuned for this blog series!

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