Regional Consultations launched for building Arabic Chapter of World Atlas of Languages

On 22 April 2021, UNESCO held a regional data validation and networking meeting for the Arab States on spoken and signed languages in the Arab region. The meeting marked a series of consultations, which contributed to the development of the Arabic Chapter of UNESCO’s World Atlas of Languages and the organization of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL2022-2032).
The Arab States are linguistically rich and diverse. They make up a region of centuries-old history, knowledge, science, culture and traditions, and offer a home of people speaking and signing different languages. Many efforts are being taken to promote the use of Arabic language in socio-cultural, economic, and political domains as well as in cyberspace. These efforts have already delivered some concrete results for the users who are able to access new language resources, tools, and services in Arabic language.

Yet, among the about 100 different variations, many of lesser-used dialects of Arabic and other languages spoken and signed are lacking behind. In addition, more efforts are needed to ensure that deaf people in the region are able to use their sign languages in all domains.

Furthermore, data gaps about linguistic diversity and multilingualism in the Arab States are huge. If available, datasets are provided in inconsistent manner which raises multiple risks for policy making. It therefore is important to build capacities of institutions dealing with language harmonization, documentation and research, as well as statistical departments to collect accurate data, and develop new tools taking full advantage of technological development.

On 18 December 2020, UNESCO invited its Member States and relevant partners in the Arab States to complete the Survey of Languages in the Arab States. The survey aimed to collect a wide range of data on the number of spoken and sign languages in countries, as well as selected information about the use and users of each language.

The consultative meeting on 22 April 2021 brought together a multi-stakeholder group to review the results of this survey, engage in a constructive dialogue and assess the situation of Arabic and other languages spoken and signed in the region. The participants also identified regional challenges related to the data processes and addressing possible ways for enhancement of datasets to be included in the development of the Arabic Chapter of UNESCO’s World Atlas of Languages.

The consultative meeting concluded with:

Validation of data collection results for the development of the Arabic Chapter of the UNESCO World Atlas of Languages;
Contributions to the preparation of the regional report on linguistic diversity in the Arab States;
Contributions for the preparation of technical standards, procedures and responsibilities to integrate data on Arabic linguistic resources and build a state-of-the-art online interactive platform;
Listing of key partners at a regional level to set up a network initiated to collaborate on the data collection on linguistic diversity related matters and members informed on the upcoming International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDL2022-2032).
The meeting also contributed to the ongoing preparatory process of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly (A/RES/74/135). In an effort to promote linguistic diversity and multilingualism, the regional meeting promoted the implementation of the UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Promotion and Use of Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace (2003).

For the development of UNESCO World Atlas of Languages, all relevant stakeholders are invited to submit their inputs, provide evidence-based data and share good practices, through the Regional Survey of Languages in the Arab States. Each contribution counts and will inform the strategic framework guiding future actions in the area of spoken and sign languages in the Arab States.


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