UNESCO
It's International Mother Language Day! Celebrate by starting to learn an indigenous language.

Celebrate International Mother Language Day Today

Rick Kearns
2/21/14

Happy Lakota Language Day!

Today is Lakota Language Day and International Mother Language Day, both of which are dedicated to protecting what the United Nations called “the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage… and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.”

International Mother Language Day started in 2000 “to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism,” according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) website.

“There is a fundamental linkage between language and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity,” the UNESCO site says. “Local and indigenous communities have elaborated complex classification systems for the natural world, reflecting a deep understanding of local flora, fauna, ecological relations and ecosystem dynamics. A number of recent studies have shown that environmental knowledge embedded in indigenous names, oral traditions and taxonomies is often lost when a community shifts to another language.”

Along with these inherent values, another reason for starting the program was to try and stop the loss of these languages, including the native languages of the western hemisphere. UNESCO estimated that without intervention, half of 6,000 plus languages that exist today would disappear by the end of the century.

In the United States, according to UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, there are 191 indigenous languages that face this problem. One of the languages on that list is Lakota, but there are educators and activists trying to change that.

The Lakota Language Consortium, based in Bloomington, Indiana, was founded in 2004 and works towards supporting “the Lakota language, culture and community by providing resources and technical assistance for language preservation and education.”

Will Meya, the consortium’s executive director, said Lakota Language Day was created to reach out to people interested in learning the language and the culture.

“It provides a great opportunity to highlight the importance of the Lakota language and encourage people to honor their culture by speaking, writing, texting or posting in Lakota,” Meya said.

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