International Decade of Languages?

As we draw to the end of 2008 – which is designated as, among other things, International Year of Languages (IYL) – I wanted to ask what’s next? And to propose the possibility of an International Decade of Languages to follow up on issues that the IYL dealt with as well as some others.

A year is a short time to do much more than raise awareness, achieve some limited project results, and begin to link and expand networks interested in such a vast topic as languages. Is it time to prepare the rationale and plans for a longer term campaign?

Issues that could be addressed by an International Decade of Languages might include:

  • What more can be done for endangered languages and their speakers, from documentation and preservation, to development and education
  • Highlight the situation of languages that are not on lists of endangered languages like the Red Book, but are contracting or not being developed for education and advancement of their first language speakers.
  • Explore how the languages of the least powerful regularly get less attention in education and development, than those of the more powerful, even when significant numbers of speakers are involved.
  • Related to the above, consider the importance of languages in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, the objectives of the UN Literacy Decade, etc.
  • Discuss how to develop language policy and planning worldwide, on country, regional and global levels.
  • Consider the importance of language education for individuals and in regard to other goals of education and language development.
  • Develop an official International Declaration of Linguistic Rights for ratification by the UN and the world’s countries.
  • Explore how localization of ICT and application of human language technologies can impact language preservation, development, arts, and learning.
  • Consider whether, how and when to adopt an official international auxiliary language (or to just let English continue to evolve into this role de facto).
  • And others.

There is a little bit of time yet to consider such a concept before the end of the IYL – which was officially launched on the last International Mother Language Day (21 Feb. 2008) and will officially close on the next (21 Feb. 2009). Should proclamation of an International Decade of Languages be a recommendation to come out of the IYL experience?


6 thoughts on “International Decade of Languages?”

  1. how about providing scholarship for studies related to endangered languages, and rural tribal language in asia for example?

    1. Hi Marinta, Yes this is a good idea. However my impression is that a Decade of Languages, like the Year of Languages, would provide the framework for some organization to produce such a scholarship program, rather than directly getting into such specifics.

      One approach might be to set goals for X number of scholarships per year during the decade, or a goal of Y people trained and/or achieving degrees in areas related to minority and endangered languages. A key element might also be scholarships / education / training of native speakers of these languages in documentation, language development, linguistics, etc. Then various organizations can take on pieces of the larger common goal.

  2. Don,
    I certainly support this proposal. SIL has published a brochure entitled “Why Languages Matter: Meeting Millennium Development Goals through local languages” at

    The Bamako International Forum on Multilingualism in January 2009 plans to promote a World Summit on Multilingualism. They may be open to pushing for a UN decade.

    1. Thanks Dave, I have seen SIL’s MDG publication and it is very helpful to have this kind of perspective on the importance of languages in development. Literacy (often pluriliteracy) of course is part of the equation. Some international agriculture experts consider education as more critical to ag. devt. than improved crops etc., and what better way to start than in farmers’ first languages? And on a more fundamental level, the simple choice of languages to use or imperfections in ad hoc translations of extension messages, etc. impact participation, quality of learning, links to indigenous knowledge.

      I would like to go to Bamako for this conference. Adama Samassekou even invited me. Unfortunately there is no funding on his side or mine. I hope that there will be a way to participate on a distance basis. In any event, it would be great if the subject of a Decade of Languages were included in whatever declaration it issued (as I presume there will be one).

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