By Audrey C. Cooper and Julie A. Hochgesang
International Mother Language Day was started by UNESCO in 1999. It’s a day where local languages all over the world should be recognized and celebrated. It’s also a day where it is important to recognize that not everyone uses the “big” languages that are often required by national governments and schools. “International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999 (30C/62). On 16 May 2009 the United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution A/RES/61/266, called on its member states “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by people of the world”” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Mother_Language_Day).
If you’ll see the link http://www.un.org/en/events/motherlanguageday/2016/message.shtml, there is not one mention of signed languages in any of the documents surveyed on the page in the link–which includes the UN’s Declaration on Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (not updated since 1992) or the 2015 Resolution of the UN General Assembly on Multilingualism. This is a clear instance of linguistic exclusion. The UN’s own Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities specifically stipulates the rights of signed language users to their own natural languages; however, this is yet another indication that the UN understands signed languages only as a function of supposed disability and not as part of world linguistic heritages.
Write to your favorite assembly person today and tell them you think signed languages should be included. You can use the template below to get started!
Dear (name of UN Assembly person),
I am celebrating today with you in recognizing the importance of everyone’s mother language. I know how important it is to celebrate your roots and your culture. I am writing you to point out that signed languages are not included. Signed languages number in the hundreds around the world and are the mother languages of, most likely, hundreds of thousands of people. Please don’t exclude such a significant group – they deserve recognition and celebration as well.