February 21, 2004

UNESCO International Mother Language Day

"Half of the world's 6000 to 7000 languages are in danger of extinction. International Mother Language Day, celebrated annually on February 21, aims to promote the recognition and practice of the world's mother tongues, particularly minority ones."
(UNESCO Director General's message, Press release).

There are several initiatives to document the state of the world's endangered languages or to promote their development, e.g.: Ethnologue, FEL, ELF, Terralingua, although their resources are tiny in comparison to the scale of the task.

The majority of the world's population speak two or more languages, and "mother language" is the one they learnt first. There are plenty of even more curious descriptors for such neglected languages which I've been collecting over the past few years: exotic language, indigenous language, less-commonly taught languages (LCTL), little-known language, local language, lesser-used language, minority language, non-indigenous minority languages (NIML), languages other than English (LOTE), obscure language, strange language, interesting language, low density language, low diffusion languages, non-major languages, under-represented languages, rare languages, vanishing language, tribal language, non-commercial language, ignored language, under-resourced language, non-industrial language.

My favorite, coined by my esteemed colleague B at Carnegie Mellon University, is crazy little language, as in "OK, suppose we take some crazy little language...".

Posted by Steven Bird at February 21, 2004 04:32 PM