Comments, Globe, In Focus, Latin America

A crusade to preserve and strengthen ancestral languages

Of the seven thousand languages that are spoken in the world, some six thousand seven hundred are considered to be indigenous. Therefore, their loss represents an impoverishment for both humanity and its communities. But Bolivia is at the fore-front in saving them.


Brazilian Indians. Photo Wikimedia Commons

Rosmerys Bernal Piña


According to United Nations estimates, 40% of ancestral languages could disappear forever in the next few years following the recent trend.

For example, in Latin America, of the 420 indigenous languages alive in the region, there runs the risk of losing 26%, and in areas like the Caribbean the situation is irreversible, as they are practically extinct, according to experts.

Besides, 103 languages are cross-border and are used in at least two countries. Such is the case of Quechua, present in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru. Specialists point out that the loss of an indigenous language is usually connected to  assimilation, forced relocation, economic migration, illiteracy, poverty, exclusion, discrimination, and human rights abuses of the people who speak them.

According to UNESCO, the protection of this patrimony could contribute to the success of the Sustainable Development Objectives and strengthen the human rights and dignity of these peoples. Bolivia promotes the knowledge and appreciation of indigenous languages because of its importance for the culture, tradition and identity and as a reflection of life in these communities.

Photo: Wikipedia

The Bolivian Minister of External Relations, Diego Pary, recently pointed out that every two weeks we lose an ancestral language and when this happens a village and a community disappear.

Hence, the interest from international Organisations in recovering, maintaining and developing these forms of communication.

Pary emphasised that to preserve, strengthen and develop them is an important challenge for our countries.

In Bolivia, after the arrival of Evo Morales as president in 2006, the first indigenous leader in Bolivia, he laid down rules, projects and plans to benefit native peoples and therefore, also their language. According to oficial statistics, Bolivia is the Latin American nation with the largest indigenous population (62.2%) followed by Guatemala, Peru and Mexico.

The Bolivian state recognises 36 nationalities and the same amount of native indigenous languages. The Multinational Political State Constitution established equal rights and respect for the traditions, customs and autonomy of these peoples.

However, “the use of indigenous languages and their recognition within Bolivia has been diminshed since Colonial times, first by the imposition of Spanish as the oficial language, and later by new technologies, social change and globalisation” points out an article published in the San Andrés University web page, a public institution located in La Paz.

Photo Wikipedia

The text highlights that the native languages most spoken are Quechua, used by 28% of the population, Aymara, by which 18% of the inhabitants communicate: and Guarani, only used by 1% of Bolivians.

In the same way, the text reflects other languages recognised in this country, Araona, Baure, Bésiro, Canichana, Cavineño, Cayubaba, Chácobo, Chimán, Ese ejja, Guarasuagwe, Guarayu, Itonama, Leco, Machajuyai-kallawaya, Machineri, Maropa, Mojeño-trinitario,  Mojeño-ignaciano, Moré, Mosetén, Movima, Pacawara, Puquina, Sirionó, Tacana, Tapiete, Toromona, Uruchipaya, Weenhayek, Yaminawa, Yuki, Yuracaré and  Zamuco.

In November 2018, during the 16th Ibero-American Summit celebrated in Guatemala, Morales thanked the particpitating countries for their support with the event, as well as their social integration, education and development.

This year Bolivia will carry out events of great importance for the indigenous communities and the international community, according to the Deputy Minister of External Relations, Guadalupe Palomeque.

For example, on the 21st of February, International Mother Language Day, the Executive Committee of the International Year will organise an interactive academic dialogue to strengthen the protection, promotion and preservation of all languages, emphasising linguistic minorities and those languages in danger of facing extinction.

In the international environment, a Peoples’ World Meeting about languages will be organised and an International Conference focusing on native peoples, indigenous languages and their contribution to the United Nations agenda for sustainable development for 2030.

On their part, the Minister for Culture, Wilma Alanoca, highlighted the interest in Bolivia through the promotion of indigenous languages, by means of international book fairs.

Alanoca disclosed that the first step would take place this February, in the Havana Book Fair, Cuba, and afterwards the intention is to be present in Argentina, Peru and in Mexico.

The civil servant explained that the Ministry would strengthen the study of native languages through national competitions, and with the production of texts and audios.

In the recently concluded Madrid International Tourism Fair in Spain, Bolivia presented an Aymara-Spanish dictionary in order to illustrate a bit of the native languages of this South American country in other parts of the world. Likewise, chancellor Pary said that they aspired to convert the Bolivian nation into the headquarters of the Ibero-American Institute of Languages.

Bolivia, together with other countries and international organisations, moves forwards with initiatives to vindicate the status of indigenous languages: as well as to revitalise and relaunch their use in all social spaces, educational and communicative, to promote this manifestation of culture, experiences and identity. (PL)

(Translated by Carol B) – Photos: Pixabay

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