Strengthening measures to protect and revive highly endangered languages
- Parliamentary Assembly
- Text adopted by the Standing Committee, acting
on behalf of the Assembly, on 12 November 2010 (see Doc. 12423, report
of the Committee on Culture, Science and Education, rapporteur:
Mr Kumcuoğlu). See also Recommendation 1943 (2010).
1. Languages are an invaluable part
of cultural heritage and linguistic diversity is a fundamental element
of cultural diversity, which should be preserved and promoted. Various
international legal instruments contribute to their protection,
not only through the general principle of non-discrimination on
the grounds of language in relation to fundamental civil, political,
economic, social and cultural rights, but also in a more direct
way by enshrining the right to maintain and use one’s own language
as a component of the right to participate in cultural life.
2. Thus, Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights states that: “In those States in which … linguistic
minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not
be denied the right, in community with the other members of their
group, to enjoy their own culture … or to use their own language.” A
similar provision is included in Article 30 of the Convention on
the Rights of the Child, according to which a child belonging to
a linguistic minority or who is indigenous “shall not be denied
the right, in community with other members of his or her group,
to enjoy his or her own culture … or to use his or her own language”.
3. The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the
Diversity of Cultural Expressions of 2005 stipulates in its Article
7 (on measures to promote cultural expressions) that “1. Parties
shall endeavour to create in their territory an environment which
encourages individuals and social groups: (a) to create, produce,
disseminate, distribute and have access to their own cultural expressions,
paying due attention to the special circumstances and needs of women
as well as various social groups, including persons belonging to minorities
and indigenous peoples …”. In addition, according to Article 8,
parties may take all appropriate measures to protect and preserve
cultural expressions which are “at risk of extinction, under serious
threat, or otherwise in need of urgent safeguarding”.
4. Finally, languages (and language diversity) are also to be
protected as an indispensible vehicle for the transmission of “intangible
cultural heritage”, as stipulated in Article 2, paragraph 2, of
the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible
5. Notwithstanding the provisions on language protection contained
in several of these human rights standard-setting instruments, some
230 languages have become extinct during the last fifty years and
many more are at risk and predicted to disappear within this century.
These are, in particular, languages of small communities, which
are used only by a limited number of people, usually the most elderly,
and no longer taught to children by their parents. Such languages,
which are no longer transmitted to the next generation, cannot survive
without sustained support by the competent authorities and the immediate
adoption of measures designed to reverse this trend.
6. The situation in Europe is particularly worrying: European
language diversity is relatively poor in comparison with other regions
of the world and most European languages are in danger.
7. The protection of cultural heritage, including languages,
is among the key aims of the Council of Europe. The preamble of
the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ETS No. 148)
highlights the value of multilingualism and emphasises that the
protection of historical languages which are in danger of extinction contributes
to the maintenance and development of Europe’s cultural wealth and
traditions, as well as to the building of a Europe based on the
principles of democracy and cultural diversity.
8. The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and
its monitoring mechanism have produced positive developments. Some
member states have used the ratification instrument for officially recognising
the status of certain minority languages such as Low German in Germany,
Scots in the United Kingdom, Limburgish in the Netherlands, Cypriot
Maronite Arabic in Cyprus and Karelian in Finland. The Parliamentary
Assembly acknowledges this as a good way of protecting and reviving
highly endangered languages and encourages other member states to
follow this practice.
10. The Assembly recalls that each language mirrors a unique historical,
social, cultural and ecological knowledge, as well as an inimitable
human experience and view of the world. Hence it is seriously concerned by
the negative trends observed in language diversity and vitality.
Only new impetus and increased effort both at European and national
levels may lead to a reversal of these trends and to a revitalisation
of highly endangered languages.
11. The Assembly considers that immediate action is required in
this field. This is essential not only because the right to use
one’s own language is an inalienable right and must be protected
effectively, but also because linguistic standardisation is a threat
to the cultural identity of Europe, which is and must remain multifaceted.
Therefore, the Assembly calls on member states to:
provide continued support to
the revival of languages traditionally used in their territories
and in particular those which are highly endangered, so as to ensure
the enjoyment of language rights without discrimination and to develop
inclusive policies and targeted action plans seeking, in particular,
12.1.1 raise people’s awareness of the importance of
preserving these languages and interest vis-à-vis the culture they
12.1.2 encourage transmission of these languages to younger generations
and improvement of children’s fluency in their native language;
12.1.3 encourage the use of these languages in daily communication
and in a wide range of domains;
12.1.4 support learning of these languages at all levels of education;
12.1.5 collect and process statistics on these languages while
ensuring protection of privacy;
12.1.6 collect, preserve and make accessible public documents
and all kinds of material in these languages.
12.2 in implementing these policies, make full use of opportunities
offered by the media and new information technologies, and facilitate
networking, joint action and partnerships, including between public
and private institutions, in the development of targeted cultural
activities and initiatives.