Today is the International Mother Language Day, an annual event in UNESCO member states to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. This is mostly the international recognition of the Language Movement Day called ‘Ekushey February', which is commemorated in Bangladesh since 1952. The date of 21st February was chosen in homage to a number of ‘language martyrs’ from Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) who were shot on 21st February 1952 in Dhaka, during public protest. They were demonstrating to establish their mother language Bangla as a national language along with Urdu, which was chosen as the sole official language in the then newly created Pakistan.
Photo: Shaheed Minar, a solemn and symbolic sculpture erected in the place of the massacre. The monument is the symbol of Bangladesh Nationalism.
How important is the mother language?
Our mother tongue is more than a language, a soul inside us. It is an armory of the human mind; an archive of the history. We invent the world through language.
Mrunalini feats her mother tongue Telugu:
“How sweet our languages are, how proud they make us. How much we miss talking in our mother tongue. Especially, when we are away from it.”
Ripon Kumar Biswas in Bangladesh watchdog says:
“Mother tongue is the language of nature, which is intimately related to the individual because it is structured and upheld by local laws of nature, which structure the physiology of the individual.”
But it is even more than that. “One does not inhabit a country; one inhabits a language. That is our country, our fatherland –and no other;” said E. M. Cioran, the Rumanian-born French Philosopher.
That is why some times we see nationalism sparking in the world based on languages and language matters!
The freedom of languages in the world:
Thousands of local languages used as the daily means of expression are absent from education systems, the media, publishing and the public domain in general because of state policies.
We learn better in our mother tongue when it is taught in school (Mother tongue Dilemma –UNESCO News letter). But this is not the case of all minority languages. 476 million of world’s illiterate people speak minority languages and live in countries where children are mostly not taught in their mother language.
“It is more than 80 years that Iranian Fars authority has banned other nationalities language, such as Turks (majority in Iran), Arabs, Baluchs, Turkmens and Kurds. Every year in 21st of February all nationalities celebrate the International Mother Language Day named by UNESCO. But as before, of the day of celebration Iranian police will ride on the crowd and will arrest many.
Regarding news from Southern Azerbaijan, preparations for the 21st of February are continuing widely compare to last year. Also thousands of flyers been spread in Azerbaijan’s major cities. Capital Tebriz has been well prepared and the time for demonstration been set.”
Several thousand years old, the Ainu language spoken in northern Japan was dying out due to political pressure from the central government. At the end of the 20th century, this trend was reversed. While Ainu’s future is still not guaranteed because it isn’t taught in schools, the resurgence of interest is undeniable.
Sid writes in Picked Politics:
“International Mother Language Day deserves celebration in Zambia. The country has worked hard to establish and maintain political unity over the years. But as other societies are learning too late, it would be a tragedy if this hard-fought unity should be maintained at the expense of the variety of languages and dialects that have long called these lands home.”
Is your mother tongue facing extinction?
About 27 percent of the world's languages (about 6000) are threatened to be extinct. The Foundation for Endangered Languages says 83 percent of the world's languages are restricted to single countries, making them more vulnerable to the policies of a single government.
Abhinaba Basu at Geek Gyan says:
“A lot of people speaking English natively forget the importance of mother language due to its predominance. They take their language for granted. However, each year a bunch of languages become extinct, the latest being Eyak, which got extinct exactly a month ago with the death of Marie Smith Jones the last native Eyak speaking person.
I believe that if we don't actively try to preserve our mother language they will slowly become extinct. One of the most important things to preserve a language is to ensure that they are better covered by technology.”
Using ICT in Mother Language advocacy:
Citizen media is a great tool to promote own languages. According to Technorati there are more than 100 million blogs out there. A previous year’s report show that about 37% blogs are in Japanese followed by English (36%), Chinese (8%), Spanish(3%), Italian (3%), Portuguese (2%), French(2%) among others. And there are other growing language communities and they will rise eventually.
There are ICT based advocacy sites like Bisharat which promotes research, advocacy, and networking relating to use of African languages in software and web content.
Global Voices Online also supports and promotes the diversity of languages. Its Lingua project translates the contents of its main English page in a dozen languages. Now that is one example many international online media may want to follow to secure meaningful transfer of information to global readers.
Thumbnail: UNESCO poster