Will 2008 be the International Year of Languages? The Austrian Government has put this proposal to the United Nations General Assembly but, for the moment, it has not been ratified.
This is not stopping language-related organisations who are not waiting around for the formal decision from the United Nations. It is estimated that a third of all the world's languages will disappear throughout this century and so a year such as this is extremely important and symbolic for these languages.
The World Network for Linguistic Diversity was created within the context of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis November 2005 and was formally launched at UNESCO in Paris on 21st February, International Native Language Day. Together with Linguam贸n - House of Languages, ICVolunteers runs the secretariat of the new network whose executive committee met for the first time on 19th February 2007 in Barcelona, one year after the initial launch.
At this meeting the network's foundations were made formal. As a result, it now has a name, statutes and a headquarters. The name for the Network, Maaya, was chosen by its creator and president, Adama Sasmassekou. It means 'humanitude' in Bambara, one of the languages spoken in Mali. The network's official headquarters are located in the ICVolunteers offices in Geneva.
Maaya brings together many different institutions including the African Academy of Languages, Funredes, ICVolunteers, Linguam贸n, the Linguasphere Observatory, the Lanugage Observatory Project of Japon, l'Union Latine, and SIL International, as well as three inter-governmental organizations, UNESCO, the International Telecommuncations Union and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.
It works as a network of networks, a catalyst and incubator which aims to promote and enhance the status of the world's languages as the basis for the unique nature of human communication.
What are the aims? Maaya was established to encourage governments, institutions and civil society to adopt measures which favour fair multilingualism, to promote bi- and/or multilingual education, to develop free software which supports linguistic and cultural diversity and to defend freedom of expression more generally.
The Network also aims to encourage multilingualism in cyberspace and to create and share linguistic resources by, for example, distributing important documents, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in as many languages as possible.
Maaya is still in its early stages but in the future it will have projects to manage and will play an important role as a platform for exchanging and sharing information. Nowadays, we live in a society of shared knowledge, when technology offers great potential for languages but also a great risk because only a very small minority of the world's 6000 languages are currently present in cyberspace.
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