EU Statement – United Nations General Assembly: 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages


1 February 2019, New York – European Union Statement at the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly at the Official Launch Event of the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages


The European Union is founded on ‘unity in diversity’: diversity of cultures, customs, beliefs and of languages. Besides the 24 official languages of the Union, there are over 60 regional or minority languages, spoken by some 40 million people. They include Basque, Catalan, Frisian, Saami, Welsh and Yiddish, to mention only some. It is this diversity that makes the European Union what it is: not a ‘melting pot’ in which differences are rendered down, but a common home in which diversity is celebrated, and where our many mother tongues are a source of wealth and a bridge to greater solidarity and mutual understanding.

Language is the most direct expression of culture; it is what makes us human and what gives each of us a sense of identity. Article 22 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states that the Union shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity. Article 21 prohibits discrimination based on a number of grounds, including language. Together with respect for the individual, openness towards other cultures, tolerance and acceptance of others, respect for linguistic diversity is a core value of the European Union.

Action by the Union and our Member States to uphold multilingualism is therefore natural. Whilst it is our Member States' governments to determine the legal status of the languages spoken on their territories, and the extent to which they receive support, the European Commission maintains an open dialogue and encourages measures to preserve linguistic diversity to the extent possible.

We share the grave concern about the rapid loss of indigenous languages in the world. According to the "Endangered Languages" project, of the 7000 languages currently spoken around the world, 50% will have disappeared by the end of this century. A majority of these are indigenous languages. This is a truly worrisome trend where we believe that we all must come together and act.

This is why the European Union is supporting the International Year of Indigenous Languages. The European Parliament, in its Resolution from 3rd of July 2018 on the violation of rights of indigenous peoples in the world, emphasises that culture is a factor for development and invites all states, including the EU and its Member States, to contribute to the implementation and realisation of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Languages are part of our universal cultural patrimony and of our individual cultural identity. Investment at national, local and community level is needed to preserve and revitalise languages.

At the same time we belief that the best investment is in efforts to promote bilingualism and multilingualism. In today's interconnected world there is an increasing pressure and need to be able to speak several languages. For indigenous peoples this means that it is important to speak the national language of the country they live in. Unfortunately this accentuates the tendency to abandon the use of indigenous languages, which did not need to happen if there were a stronger appreciation and emphasis on bi- or multilingualism in the language development of each child. In this context, the European Union in 2008 has issued a strategy for multilingualism to help EU Member States develop new educational tools to ensure that school leavers have better language skills and master more than one language as a way to improving job prospects and enabling people to move around within the EU.

In our external relations we are guided by the same values and principles on which the European Union is founded. This is why we support several projects in the world to promote mother tongue based multilingual education and the revitalisation of indigenous languages.

Thank you.

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