UNESCO Publishes Motorola and Lenovo Foundation’s White Paper on Digital Inclusion of Indigenous Languages

May 30, 2024 1:15 PM ET

With support from Lenovo Foundation, Motorola jointly collaborated with UNESCO to publish a white paper detailing Motorola’s Indigenous Languages Digitization process with the aim to strengthen global focus on digital inclusion.

Published in April 2024, the “Hello Indigenous” white paper has the cooperation of UNESCO through the “Indigenous Languages on Mobile” partnership. It is a milestone for a journey that started in 2019, when Motorola and Lenovo Foundation collaborated to digitize the Kaingang languages from the Southern region of Brazil and Nheengatu from the Amazon. This whitepaper provides technical processes on endangered languages digitization to be shared globally across the industry.

In December 2022, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2022-2032 the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL 2022-2032). The decade was launched with an event in Paris to discuss how to integrate and preserve indigenous languages worldwide and the possibilities of cooperating for a more inclusive future. Sergio Buniac, President of Motorola and Vice President of Lenovo, participated in the event with representatives of the Lenovo Foundation and Motorola’s Globalization Area alongside high-level representatives of UNESCO Member States, indigenous leaders, the United Nations System agencies, national civil society research organizations, and representatives of the public and private sectors.

“We’re aware of our global company’s role and mission to bring more innovative technology to everyone, and Motorola has invested in raising awareness and putting into practice our ongoing commitment to the project to revitalize indigenous languages,” Buniac shared at the UNESCO event in 2022.

The loss of language diversity is an urgent issue. UNESCO estimates that an indigenous language is lost every two weeks, resulting in the disappearance of around 3,000 unique languages by the end of the century. Motorola and Lenovo Foundation began the efforts captured in the white paper to help preserve our human heritage, protect the stories of indigenous cultures and encourage future generations to use their native language in new digital formats so that the language does not disappear. The initiative has been vetted by Lenovo’s Product Diversity Office and has inspired further inclusive language initiatives, like Lenovo’s Aotearoa Bilingual Keyboard in New Zealand, the foundation of a first-ever Nheengatu Academy of Language in Brazil and various interactions with Task Force groups of UNESCO’s International Decade of Indigenous languages to reinforce the importance of technology on endangered Language Revitalization.

Motorola and Lenovo Foundation are committed to inclusion and smarter technology for all and continue to support endangered languages in the interface of its smartphones. In addition to Nheengatu (Amazon region), Kaingang (south/southeast of Brazil), Cherokee (North America), Kuvi, Kangri (India) and Maori (New Zealand), Motorola and Lenovo Foundation are proud to introduce Ladin, an endangered language spoken in Italy, Dolomites region (South of Tyrol) as part of the 90+ languages to use in Motorola smartphones.

Linguistic diversity is widespread in Europe and includes minority languages in various countries. From Welsh spoken in the United Kingdom to Sami spoken in Scandinavia, there are about 105 autochthonous languages that are spoken across the continent by about 400 linguistic communities (both titular nations and minority groups), reflecting the deep-rooted history of the cultures of Europe.

In Italy there are twelve officially recognized minority languages, some without kinstate such as Friulian, Sardinian and Ladin. Among these three minority languages, Ladin has the least number of speakers. Compared to Friulian and Sardinian, which have over 500,000 and 1 million speakers, respectively, there are approximately 32,500 Ladin speakers. According to the influential study by the European Commission from 1996, if a language has below 300,000 speakers, it is considered at risk of disappearing. Additionally, UNESCO categorizes Ladin as definitely endangered. With this initiative, Lenovo Foundation and Motorola hope to inspire further work on endangered languages digitization.