International Mother Language Day has gone by for 2017, and many of us, not having heard of it before, didn’t even see it coming. I think we’ll be on the lookout for it next year, though, once we learn a little about it, and can appreciate its aims.
First announced in 1999 by UNESCO,* International Mother Language Day (IMLD) is a worldwide annual observance on 21 February and is designed to “promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism” (thank you, Wikipedia).
Each year UNESCO chooses a theme for their celebration of Mother Language Day, and 2017’s theme is “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education.” The UN website explains:
“To foster sustainable development, learners must have access to education in their mother tongue and in other languages. It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired. Local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus playing an important role in promoting sustainable futures.”
As you may remember from this post, I love to hear other languages spoken, and this short video let me hear a few I hadn’t heard before.
I found a song celebrating International Mother Language Day that I wanted to share. Though I don’t understand the words to the song, and I can’t read the banner at the end, I still understood a great deal from listening to the music, and looking into the eyes of the people. And that’s part of the point, right?
The choice of date for IMLD is not arbitrary. Back when Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan, leaders in West Pakistan declared that Urdu and only Urdu would be the official language of the country, and the only language taught in schools.
This didn’t go over well with those in East Pakistan. They were far from the centers of power, but they comprised a majority of Pakistan’s population, and they spoke Bangla. There were protests, there was hard-headedness, and on February 21, 1952, there was a demonstration at the University of Dhaka to demand that Bangla be acknowledged as a language of the country. Several students were shot and killed by riot police. In Bangladesh the commemoration is often called Language Martyrs’ Day.
Here’s a short video with a little more detail on the history. It’s ironic that though the narrator is speaking English, it can be difficult to understand due to recording quality issues. Still, the drawings are good, and I think it’s worth a look.
The UN maintains that “Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage.” There has to be a way for us to celebrate the language we grew up speaking, and at the same time to honor and appreciate the languages around us that we understand a little or not at all.
*UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization–they’re the folks behind cool things like World Heritage sites (both tangible and intangible) and the World Digital Library. They put their energy toward sustainable development, building peace and eradicating poverty. They also focus on literacy, freedom of the press, cultural diversity and lifelong learning, among other things. They dream big.
[Images: theyucatantimes.com, worldatlas.com, wikipedia]