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Launch of the UN International Year of Languages


Launch of the UN International Year of Languages

“Humankind’s most powerful tools to preserve and develop our tangible and intangible heritage are our languages,” says UNESCO New Zealand National Commission chair, Dame Silvia Cartwright.

“As we celebrate International Mother Language Day and the launch of the UN International Year of languages 2008 we celebrate our shared heritage and our unity in diversity.”

Last year the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2008 the International Year of Languages. Today’s launch also coincides with International Mother Language Day, celebrated every 21st February since 2000. The United Nations has entrusted the coordination of the International Year of Languages to UNESCO. The New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO is coordinating this year’s celebrations and working in partnership with key partners already mentioned - the Human Rights Commission; Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori; the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs; and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

“Languages are at the very heart of UNESCO’s objectives, described by our director general Koichiro Matsuura as ‘humanity’s most precious and fragile treasure’,” says Dame Silvia.

“Tragically, United Nations experts predict that of the seven thousand languages currently spoken worldwide, fifty per cent will die out in only two generations: an ancient world language disappearing forever every fortnight.”

Alarmingly the future for many Pacific languages is not positive and there remains the ongoing battle to secure te reo Maori for future generations of New Zealanders.

“Here in New Zealand and the Pacific many of our region’s mother tongues are in grave danger,” says Dame Silvia.

“The challenge for everyone from individuals, organisations and decision makers to make an effort to keep them alive: from speaking your mother tongue in your own home; to encouraging multilingualism in your workplace; to strengthening government policies that will nurture and strengthen these kinds of initiatives.”

“The only way we as a people will be able to save a language is by working together, talking together and planning our futures together.”


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the UN International Year of Languages?

On 16 May 2007 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2008 to be the International Year of Languages. As language issues are central to UNESCO’s mandate in education, science, social and human sciences, culture and communication and information, UNESCO has been named as the lead agency for this year.

What are the aims of the UN International Year of Languages?

To celebrate the International Year of Languages, UNESCO invites governments, United Nations organizations, civil society organizations, educational institutions, professional associations and all other stakeholders to increase their own activities to promote and protect all languages, particularly endangered languages, in all individual and collective contexts.

What is UNESCO?

Set up in the wake of World War II, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) builds peace by promoting global cooperation and communication. A specialised agency of the United Nations comprised of 192 member states and 6 associate members, UNESCO is governed by a biennial General Conference. New Zealand joined UNESCO in 1947 – the second nation in the world to do so.

What does UNESCO do in New Zealand?

The New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO is the focal point for UNESCO in New Zealand. Within New Zealand, the National Commission is committed to developing effective relations with its stakeholders and the promotion of a fair society and knowledge economy.

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