ICT4ALL: Indigenous languages matter for peace, innovation and development

10 Apr 2019 15:00h - 16:30h

Event report


Indigenous languages could play towards sustainable development and if ICTs are to be made accessible, inclusive and affordable for all, it ought to include indigenous language users. Indigenous languages are imbued with invaluable potential and universal knowledge that can be unlocked in order to contribute to the development and innovation in domains such as education, science and research, culture, policy, industry and environment.

Although the commitment of the UN to the rights of indigenous peoples are implied in all aspects of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and articulated in other international documents such as WSIS, this does not automatically result in their inclusion in either general or targeted efforts to meet SDGs and their integration into the national information and technology-related policies, practices and processes. Despite technological progress, many indigenous peoples experience a variety of barriers to access information in cyberspace, access websites and e-content, use mobile phones and applications, television, personal computers, tables, and other, in their own languages at school, workplace or public domain. The key challenge remains how to effectively provide indigenous language users with access to and control of the use of ICTs to empower them to be a continuing and vital force in global humanity. The panellists believe that this will require mainstreaming such perspective in all planned development actions, including legislation, policies and programmes, industrial development in all areas and at all levels of development.

Universal acceptance of Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) and similar efforts have been devoted to ensuring equal access to information and knowledge using ICTs, establishing resilient infrastructures, facilitating access to education, health care and employment, combating climate change, as well as strengthening the means for global partnerships. IDNs have great potential to bridge this gap and represent the minority and indigenous languages in the domain space. However, more technical work is necessary to improve IDN uptake and support linguistic diversity. Since it requires various stakeholders to participate, there is a lot of scope out there, said Ms Emily Taylor (CEO, Oxford Information Labs (UK).

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is launching a campaign to promote indigenous languages as a part of their Open Access Policy (2016). Ms Rebecka Forsgren (WIPO) said as a part of the policy anyone can access a free translation of their resources and also get guidance from the technical divisions to co-create intellectual property in indigenous languages. Despite progress made, the needs of indigenous language users have not been fully taken into consideration for policy development, product and services delivery, nor the underlying ethical dimensions have been acknowledged.

The elaboration of the Global Action Plan for the implementation of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution proclaimed 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages, and thus explored the ways to draw recommendations that can be incorporated and mainstreamed within the WSIS framework on the usage of inclusive and accessible ICTs by indigenous language users in all societal domains.

Taylor cited the classic example of Facebook’s success whereby the one thing that moved it up out of its struggling start-up phase was the crowd sourced translation into Spanish that made it more than just an American app. Thus supporting local languages is not just a good thing to do but also the right thing to do as it can revitalise businesses.

Speaking on behalf of indigenous people, Mr Eirik Larsen (Representative of the Sami Parliament Norway) said that development of technology to enable indigenous people and languages should be developed in consultation with the community and their equal contribution.

Mr Joseph Mariani (Director of Research Emeritus, Mechanical and Computer Engineering Laboratory, French National Centre for Scientific Research, LIMSI-CNRS, France) said that multilingualism is important for technology to develop and hence the role of governments in realising the importance of languages is of utmost importance.

If we support indigenous languages we find new customers and hence new business opportunities. It also opens up avenues for indigenous communities to become part of global processes. Hence the efforts to integrate them and continue knowledge sharing to keep this inclusiveness and openness will be crucial.


By Mili Semlani