Colombia to protect 68 native languages over 10 years

Culture Minister Angélica Mayolo during with members of Colombia's native language experts. Ph: Richard Emblin

Colombia’s Ministry of Culture unveiled its 10-year plan to safeguard 68 native and indigenous languages during an event at Teatro Colón to mark the UN’s International Mother Language Day. The event that brought together representatives from Colombia’s Afro, creole and indigenous groups put a timeline of 10-years for the national government to protect native spoken traditions that are endangered as populations decrease, migrate and young generations leave their communities.

The Spanish-named Plan Decenal de Lenguas Nativas is part of the country’s language Law 1381 of 2010 that recognizes the inherent right of peoples to communicate in their own languages across the national territory. Of Colombia’s 68 native languages, almost half are facing extinction, and represent the loss of ancestral wisdom, biodiversity and many cultural expressions. The 10-Year Plan also protects Sign Language as part of the nation’s language portfolio.

According to UNESCO, the disappearance of native languages ??in the world has accelerated faster than the extinction of flora and fauna. While the multilateral entity has recorded 7,106 indigenous languages, currently this figure stands near 6,000; by the end of this century there will be only be 3,000.

Culture Minister Angélica María Mayolo highlighted the importance of safeguarding measures to promote education development in youngsters, a sense of ethnic identity and cross-cultural dialogue to construct peace and reconciliation. “The plan allows for local and national governments to implement native languages at the heart of institutional, social and education programs as outlined in the National Development Plan,” said Mayolo.

Colombia’s 68 native languages are represented by 65 indigenous, 2 creole (Ri Palenque and language spoken in the archipelago of San Andrés and Providencia), as well as Romaní of the Rom or gypsy people. For Marcelino Torres of the Arhuaco community in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the Plan Decenal is a “significant step for indigenous peoples as it becomes public and state policy to protect linguistic traditions threatened by uniformization.” Words echoed by Gabriel Muyuy Jacanamejoy of the Inga community, and representative of the Development Fund for the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and Caribbean (FILAC). “Colombia has taken a leadership role in the region to revitalise cultural and linguistic traditions, and is much further ahead of other nations in this process.”

To join a conversation on the importance of protecting native languages, the Ministry of Culture is using the hashtag #ColombiaHablaEn

Ceremonial dance by the Wayuu during ceremony at Teatro Colón. Photo: Richard Emblin