The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today urged the use of books and textbooks in local languages to support education in mother tongues, which promotes linguistic and cultural diversity and serves as the foundation for all social, economic and cultural life.
“Books are a force for peace and development that must be placed in the hands of all,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in her message for International Mother Language Day, marked annually on 21 February. This year’s theme is “Mother tongues and books – including digital books and textbooks.”
The Day, proclaimed by UNESCO’s General Conference in 1999, has been observed every year since 2000 to focus on endangered languages and the importance of preserving these languages.
Ms. Bokova noted that the protection of languages ensures that rare and indigenous knowledge is safeguarded and handed down.
“By giving each of us the means to make ourselves heard and be respected, this is also a force for social inclusion,” she added.
In exploring the link between languages and books, UNESCO said that the death of books and textbooks in local languages “hampers development and social inclusion and represents a violation of the right to freedom of expression.”
The Paris-based agency estimates that if nothing is done, half of the 6,000 plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century.
It urges its partners, authors and teachers around the world to promote the importance of linguistics through published and electronic books calling them “precious instruments” for sharing knowledge, mutual understanding and opening the world to all.
“We must do more to distribute materials and books as widely and fairly as possible, so that all people – children above all – can read in the language of their choice, including in their mother tongue,” Ms. Bokova said.
Encouraging teaching in the mother tongue aids the fight against literacy and can boost progress towards the Education for All, an international initiative which aims to bring the benefits of education to every citizen in every society by 2015.
Ms. Bokova also noted the important contribution translation plays “by creating bridges to new readers.”