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The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IY2019) to raise awareness of the crucial role languages play in people's daily lives.

In 2016, the UN reported that 40 per cent (2,680) of the estimated 6,700 languages spoken around the world were in danger of disappearing. Most of these are Indigenous languages, placing the world's cultures and knowledge systems at risk. Australia's languages are some of the most endangered in the world.

Language has complex implications for identity, cultural diversity, spirituality, communication, social cohesion, education and development. The UN recognises that language is a core component of human rights and fundamental freedoms.i The IY2019 aims to contribute to the attainment of the goals of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It also reinforces goals under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the United Nations system-wide action plan on the rights of Indigenous peoples.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is leading and organising the IY2019. UNESCO worked with governments, Indigenous peoples' organisations, researchers and other stakeholders to create a UNESCO Action Plan that sets out the path to achieving the objectives of the IY2019. It calls for a coherent approach and for joint collaborative action by all stakeholders to achieve maximum positive effect and social change with regard to Indigenous languages and those who speak them.

The Australian Government recognises UNESCO's objectives for the IY2019. Through participating in the IY2019, the Australian Government will ultimately contribute to UNESCO's objectives, which include:

  • Focusing global attention on the critical risks confronting Indigenous languages and the significance of such risks for sustainable development, reconciliation, good governance and peacebuilding.
  • Targeting steps which will lead to improved quality of life, enhanced international cooperation and strengthened intercultural dialogue, and reaffirming cultural and linguistic continuity.
  • Delivering increased capacities on the part of all stakeholders to take concrete and sustainable measures at every level to support, access and promote Indigenous languages around the world in accordance with the legitimate rights of Indigenous peoples.


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