We at SIL International are thrilled that 2019 has been declared by the United Nations as International Year of Indigenous Languages.
Why is IYIL important? Our languages matter to each of us. They help us express our uniqueness as human beings, access information, share our thoughts, and interact and cooperate with other people.
Many people today use more than one language for these basic activities of life. But our first language–sometimes called our mother tongue–does even more than that. Our first language connects us to our identity in a way no other language can.
My first language is Ghomálá’, one of the 283 languages spoken in Cameroon.
Words in Ghomálá’ don’t just convey a message to my brain. They evoke deep memories, touch my emotions, and remind me who I truly am.
Over the years, I have had the painful experience of needing to deny myself, and the language I spoke at home, in order to access education and to enjoy a better socioeconomic status. This is the tragedy faced by speakers of many lesser-known languages of the world.
As the cultures and languages of the world continue to be impoverished, the quality of human life will be endangered as well. That is because language is tied to our emotions, and our identities, and all social, political and economic aspects of our lives. Everything is connected to language.
It is my desire and hope that as a global community, we will use the opportunity of this International Year of Indigenous Languages so that this generation will be known as the one that intervened for languages so that the world’s linguistic tapestry and cultural diversity was preserved.
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