First, as highlighted by the Deputy High Commissioner in her statement, it is very important to emphasize that using your own language is a human right, for anyone belonging to a linguistic or cultural minority, as set out in article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Language is a basic tenet of culture, the buildings blocks for perception and thinking. Language is not only a tool for communication; it also carries a web of tangible and intangible knowledge. One example is the specialized terms of the Sami language, which is used by many Sami in Norway, for moving in and using the nature and natural resources, in a safe and sustainable way.
Many societies where indigenous peoples live share a history of discrimination and assimilation policies, often closely associated with a perceived hierarchy of languages and cultures, as the majority language is often perceived as superior, while indigenous languages have been assigned to the private sphere. As most speakers of the minority languages are bilingual, the parents often tend to pass on the language with the higher status, the result being that the link to the older family members, and to traditional knowledge, is severed.
Some may experience negative health effects, as they live most of their everyday life in a language which was forced upon them. Others have taken great strides to retake their languages, and view their language as a point of pride, and as a way to express their identity with dignity.
We would like to hear the panelists’ views on the effects of stigmatisation and the perceived status of an indigenous language on health and emotional well-being, and on successful strategies to navigate these challenges, as well as the role of revitalisation of languages as a resource for strengthening indigenous communities.
As there was urgent need for action, Norway launched a Plan of action for Sami languages, in 2009, as mentioned by the Special Rapporteur in his introduction. The plan focuses on three themes, visibility of the Sami languages, practical use of the Sami languages, and education in the language at all levels, including, quite importantly, in informal adult education.
One important measure, though costly, is the development of electronic proofing tools for the Sami languages, which was recently completed. Users will now see the same red and green lines on their computer screens indicating errors, in the same way we are used to when writing in majority languages. The visibility message here is that indigenous languages have their natural place when using modern technology.
Other, and in our view successful measures, include:
· passing legislation stressing the equal worth of the indigenous languages with the majority language,
· granting teachers paid leave to study the indigenous language, and
· visibility measures, like road signs displaying traditional Sami topographical names in both the indigenous and majority language.
We would like the panelists share their experiences regarding measures that have proved particularly useful in revitalization efforts, both at the practical level and with regards to visibility.
Thank you, Madam President!