Indigenous Languages

A View from UNICEF.

UNICEF is convinced that promoting the use of indigenous languages is not only a strategy to improve social services: it is the right of children and of indigenous peoples. The programs that have yielded the largest and best results in terms of the use of indigenous languages are those that have relied on the active participation of indigenous peoples themselves.

Indigenous participation should not be limited to decisions related to the status of indigenous languages in society, but should be ensured in decisions related to the linguistic corpus. In accordance with the approach of the indigenous movement, UNICEF has transcended the simple use and maintenance of the languages, having also promoted and supported processes to develop native tongues such as the elaboration of alphabets, spelling norms and the development of technical language for the use of these languages in all subjects of school curricula, for various educational levels and for various environments. UNICEF firmly believes that it is crucial to overcome the situation of diglossia in which the majority of indigenous languages find themselves as a consequence of both colonization and discrimination.

UNICEF has learned that working with indigenous languages is an extremely important strategy for the empowerment of indigenous peoples, especially women. UNICEF has also learned that in many cases bilingual education has successfully reduced the educational gap between boys and girls, girls being those who benefit most from these programs. The same is true for programs teaching literacy to the adult population. Our experience also shows the importance of including linguistic policies in the public policy framework of each country, developed with indigenous participation. There are few countries that offer a clear linguistic policy. In conclusion, it is necessary to work for the maintenance and development of indigenous languages and for their use throughout society. But it is also necessary to work with the rest of the population, to promote a culture which respects cultural diversity and enrichment between cultures, in order to establish a framework for inclusive democracy.

by Anna Lucia D'Emilio

Anna Lucia D’Emilio
State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples
MRG International and UNICEF
© 2009 MRG
International & Anna Lucia D’Emilio