Tuesday was International Mother Language Day, a worldwide holiday that celebrates and promotes linguistic diversity. The holiday was established and promoted by UNESCO starting in 2000, with the goal of supporting and protecting threatened languages. It is estimated that more than half of the languages currently spoken around the world will be around for a few more generations, at most. International Mother Language Day is a holiday for those of us who want to turn the tide back.
In honor of the holiday, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova released an official statement affirming the importance of promoting linguistic diversity around the world:
“The language of our thoughts and our emotions is our most valuable asset. Multilingualism is our ally in ensuring quality education for all, in promoting inclusion and in combating discrimination. Building genuine dialogue is premised on respect for languages. Each representation of a better life, each development goal is expressed in a language, with specific words to bring it to life and communicate it. Languages are who we are; by protecting them, we protect ourselves.”
This year, UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day observances focused on linguistic diversity in education, and on allowing children to educated in their native language first:
“Excluded population groups, such as indigenous peoples, are often those whose mother tongues are ignored by education systems. Allowing them to learn from a very early age in their mother tongue, and then in national, official or other languages, promotes equality and social inclusion.”
Celebrations were also held by local communities all across the world. For example, in Pakistan , language activists held a seminar to call for reforms in government and education that would promote linguistic diversity by “making every tongue a mother tongue.” In Bangladesh, an event was held to give 3-year-olds their first taste of the Bangla alphabet. In Armenia , top Armenian language and literature teachers were given medals by the government for their efforts to promote the Armenian language.
Closer to home, children in London celebrated International Mother Language Day and by performing plays, dances and songs from other cultures. Finally, in the tech world, Microsoft celebrated the holiday by adding the Hmong Daw language to Bing’s translation repertoire.