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Message from the Director-General of UNESCO for International Mother Language Day - 21 February 2005

18-02-2005 - International Mother Language Day, which the international community has been celebrating with UNESCO every 21 February for the past six years, provides an especially meaningful opportunity for debate and action to promote all the languages spoken on our planet.

As a medium for conveying knowledge, for learning, dialogue and expressing an individual culture’s view of reality, each of the six thousand languages currently spoken on earth – by reason of its own irreplaceable originality – helps nurture and enrich the cultural heritage of humankind.

Given their core position in the cultural fabric, languages are a fundamental strategic factor to which due regard must be paid in the face of the great challenges of the future. If culture is, as UNESCO has been saying since the Conference on Cultural Policies for Development in Stockholm in 1998, at the heart of sustainable development, then language becomes a key factor not just in endeavours to promote cultural diversity and quality education suited to the needs of learners, but also in the fight against poverty. The fact is that, as a medium of learning crucial to the exercising of every form of social skill and professional activity, language plays a central part in building knowledge societies; and the role of the new information and communication technologies here is growing greater by the day. So teaching a mother language and multilingualism are the cardinal points of a sustainable development that safeguards each individual’s attachment to his or her native culture while ensuring that everyone can open up to others and reap the benefits of an increasingly interactive world.

In order to be able to play these roles to the full, languages must, of course, be able to exist and flourish freely among the speakers keeping them alive. Enhancing languages therefore also means having respect for the women and men that speak them and the cultures that they convey.
But it means having respect as well for each speaker’s own particular circumstances, with the individual differences and the diverse functional and personal capacities that make up his or her own distinctive identity.

To this effect, I would like, for this sixth International Mother Language Day, to draw attention and pay special tribute to the Braille and sign languages used by millions of women and men of all ages and across every continent as tools of integration, communication, learning, information and expression.

In the light of these considerations illustrating the outstanding role played by every language without exception in every sphere of social life, I call on political decision-makers, civil society actors and all those who cherish the vast wealth that linguistic diversity represents for humankind to organize events throughout the world to celebrate, with creativity and generosity, each and every person’s mother tongue, and the languages of one and all.
Koïchiro Matsuura

Source Office of the Spokeswoman





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