There are over 7,000 languages spoken throughout the world, with 2,400 in danger of becoming extinct. Many of these are native languages spoken by Indigenous people around the globe, that have ties to unique histories and cultures – histories and cultures on the precipice of dying out with the languages themselves. Without recognition and qualified language support, the disappearance of these native languages can put people at risk.
International Mother Language Day is observed annually on February 21st to raise awareness and celebrate the importance of linguistic and cultural diversity. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) approved the holiday in November 1999, and the UN officially recognized it in 2002.
The day serves to highlight the importance of multiculturalism, and to support the preservation of languages spoken by people throughout the world. Protecting language and culture effectively safeguards against inequality, discrimination, and alienation of populations, advances inclusion, and allow various cultures and worldviews to coexist.
Not Having a Reliable Language Provider Can Have Dire Consequences for Indigenous People
In September 2022, the west coast of Alaska was devastated by Typhoon Merbok, forcing the Chevak Native Village and the City of Chevak to declare a state of emergency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hired a translation company to convert information about applying for disaster recovery assistance into two Alaska Native languages – Yugtun and Iñupiaq.
According to Alaska Public Media, numerous sources said the translations received were not accurate, leaving approximately 13,000 people without the translated documents necessary for getting help.
Linguist Gary Holton, who spent 20 years documenting Alaska Native languages at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Alaska Native Language Center, said that whoever translated the documents into Yup’ik lifted phrases from the Rubtsova texts – a collection of language and folklore from Far East Russia published in the Soviet Union in the 1940s.
Holton pointed out that the translations were nonsensical, noting that where FEMA’s news release read “State News Desk,” the translated version read, “when she said so, the dog ran farther off from the curtain.”
Tara Sweeney, the former Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, told Alaska Public Media, “There’s a lot of that historical trauma of being beaten in schools because they were speaking their Indigenous languages, which is why there’s a generation of us in Alaska that struggle with fluency.”
FEMA took responsibility for the incident, fired the agency that did the translations, and immediately had them corrected. Fortunately, no one was denied aid.
Not a single person should be denied help during an emergency because of the language they speak. Understanding the significance of language access during an emergency is critical, and speaking a native language is not a reason to receive lesser services or no service at all. Partnering with a reliable language service provider can be a game changer for people who speak languages of lesser diffusion (like Yugtun and Iñupiaq, these are native languages spoken by a small population in a geographic area) and the organizations that aim to help them.
Education and a Reliable Language Service Provider Help Keep Languages Alive
On their website, UNESCO explains, “Globally, 40 percent of the population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand. Nevertheless, progress is being made in multilingual education with growing understanding of its importance, particularly in early schooling, and more commitment to its development in public life.”
International Mother Language Day serves to recognize and revive languages that are vanishing or on the verge of dying out. By educating people about the importance of language and its ties to rich cultures and histories, it encourages people to continue learning these languages, and can prevent awful mishaps like what occurred in Alaska from happening again.
Language Services Associates (LSA) provides native language support with a team of highly qualified, carefully vetted interpreters and translators. We understand the importance of accurate, culturally appropriate language conversion, and offer customizable services to ensure that your organization can communicate with LEP populations clearly and effectively.
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Language Services Associates (LSA) offers a full suite of language interpretation solutions to help optimize the experience of limited English proficient customers and patients. Providing native language support improves the efficiency and productivity of staff, raises customer satisfaction levels, and builds loyalty. For more than 2,000 clients worldwide, in more than 230 languages, LSA provides a competitive differentiator in the healthcare, government, financial and banking, insurance, entertainment, hospitality, and manufacturing industries.