Wednesday 21st February, the world celebrates International Mother Language Day. Originating from protests to promote multilingualism in Bangladesh in 1952, the day is celebrated annually on this date.
Language Movement Day is already a national day in Bangladesh which remembers the protests and sacrifices made by Students to protect the Bengali (also known as Bangla) language, when the government announced that Urdu would become the official language of East Bengal (now Bangladesh). Fighting broke out between students and police in the University of Dhaka – initially the police used tear gas and batons, while the students used bricks and shoes to throw at the police. However, as the day and the protests wore on, the police eventually opened fire, killing some members of the protest, and injuring many more. The next day thousands of people went to the cemetery to pay tribute to those who had died to protect their native language. This protest was just part of a whole Language Movement to protect the status of the Bengali language.
In 1999, UNESCO announced that the 21st February would become the International Mother Language Day. The
first celebration of this day took place in 2000 and there is a separate theme for each year. This year the theme is “Quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes”, which according to the UN website “emphasizes the importance of appropriate languages of instruction, usually mother tongues, in the early years of schooling. It facilitates access to education – while promoting fairness – for population groups that speak minority and indigenous languages, in particular girls and women; it raises the quality of education and learning achievement by laying emphasis on understanding and creativity, rather than on rote and memorisation.”
96% of the world’s languages are spoken by just 4% of the population. While some may argue that global communication becomes easier the fewer languages there are, language is more than just a way of communication. Not only is no one language better than another, and therefore people have the right to speak their own language, it also promotes culture and diversity across the world – wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we were all the same!
You can find out more about International Mother Language Day at http://www.un.org/en/events/motherlanguageday/.