Opening of Seventy-fourth Session of General Assembly

High-level event for the closing of the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages

On 17 December, the President of the 74th session of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande convened a High-level event for the closing of the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages, in line with 2018 General Assembly resolution 73/156.


The critical situation of indigenous languages directly affects their users. This situation also carries a special and wider significance for all of us because of their role and relevance in peace building, good governance, sustainable development and reconciliation.

Language is one of the fundamental preconditions for human development, dialogue, reconciliation, tolerance, diversity and the peaceful existence of human societies. People need language to communicate with one another and to pass on, from generation to generation, knowledge, ideas, beliefs and traditions, which are essential for their recognition, well-being, evolution and peaceful co-existence.

Despite their immense value, languages continue to disappear at alarming rates. Indigenous peoples use a vast majority of today’s endangered languages. Reasons for the endangerment of indigenous languages vary across different communities and locations, but all represent a tremendous challenge to indigenous peoples. These reasons include policies that prioritize linguistic assimilation over multilingualism, educational disadvantage, illiteracy, enforced relocation, migration or other manifestations of discrimination and disadvantages. This risks a language being weakened to the point of disappearance.

Public policies on indigenous languages, backed by the necessary resources can create an enabling environment for support, access and promotion of indigenous languages. The survival of these languages, however, will depend on the prosperity and political influence of the language users and their ability to speak and use them in all spheres of life. Language policies, therefore, need to be complemented by policies that empower indigenous peoples politically, economically and socially so that they can make their livelihoods without having to give up their language and culture or to migrate out of economic need.

In practical terms, the risk is that parents and elders can no longer pass on indigenous languages to their children and that indigenous languages fall out of daily use. The advantage in recognizing and supporting indigenous languages is to strengthen dignity, heritage, peaceful relations and sustainable development. The issues around indigenous languages could have much broader consequences, affecting politics, law and justice, health, cultural practices and identities, climate change, access to education, jobs, information and communication, social life and wider participation in sustainable development.