Did you know that February 21st was International Mother Language Day?
UNESCO declared the day a holiday in 1999, but its roots go back much deeper into the past. According to Wikipedia, International Mother Language Day started in 1952 in what is now Bangladesh. At this time in history, Bangladesh was still part of Pakistan. Most of the people in what was then called East Pakistan spoke Bangla, but in 1948, Urdu, a language spoken primarily in West Pakistan, was declared the official language for the entire country.
On February 21, 1952, Students at University of Dhaka and Dhaka Medical College started a peaceful protest of the decision, despite the government having banned any sort of meetings and gatherings in the area. Police fired on the protesters, killing some of the students.
Since then, East Pakistan and later Bangladesh have celebrated “Language Movement Day” on February 21. In 1999, UNESCO made it an official worldwide holiday to celebrate linguistic diversity.
The holiday is celebrated with local celebrations in many communities, and at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. This year, UNESCO is holding a 2-day symposium on Translation and Cultural Mediation on February 22nd and 23rd.
The focus of the symposium will be using translation to bring together people from different cultures across the world, allowing a more balanced exchange of ideas while still promoting linguistic diversity.
In a statement promoting the event, Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, stated that:
“Multilingualism, the learning of foreign languages and translation are three strategic axes for the language policies of tomorrow. On the occasion of this 11th International Mother Language Day, I am appealing to the international community to give the mother language, in each of these three axes, its rightful, fundamental place, in a spirit of respect and tolerance which paves the way for peace.”