International Mother Language Day is celebrated on 21 February to increase understanding of linguistic and cultural diversity and to promote multilingualism. This has come into existence as languages play a very important role in development, preserving cultural heritage, strengthening cooperation and attaining quality education for all.
So, what is the History of International Mother Language Day?
This goes back to the year 1947 when the partition happened in the Indian Subcontinent. Pakistan was having two geographical fragments: East Pakistan (presently known as Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (presently known as Pakistan). Both fragments were very different from each other in terms of culture and language.
The government of Pakistan declared Urdu as the national language despite Bangla being spoken by the majority of people. Mr. Dhirendranath Dutta from East Pakistan on 23rd February 1948 raised his voice in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. Protests followed in East Pakistan and to demolish the protest Government of Pakistan declared them illegal. On 21 February 1952 Pakistani Police opened fire on the students of the University of Dhaka. Many of them died on the day and leaving hundreds injured in the shootout.
Since then, Bangladeshi’s observe 21 February as Language Movement Day and pay tribute to the martyrs on Shaheed Minar, a monument built in their memory.
Two students Rafiqul Islam and Abdus Salam wrote a letter to Kofi Anan on 9 January 1998 requesting him to save the world’s languages from extinction by celebrating International Mother Language Day.
So let us take look at the Importance of Mother Languages in our current system
International Mother’s Language Day commemorates linguistic and cultural diversity together with multilingualism as a catalyst for peace and sustainable development. It also looks to save the languages which are on the verge of extinction and at least 43% of 6000 languages are in danger zone.
Multi-cultural and Multi-lingual societies have been using this occasion to preserve traditional knowledge and cultures sustainably.
What are the celebrations happening on International Mother’s Language Day?
UNESCO in its Paris headquarters has been celebrating this historical day by choosing a different theme every year. A notable celebration took place in the year 2008 when the whole year was commemorated as the International Year of Languages. Here is a snapshot of some prominent themes which have been celebrated over the years:
- 2008: International Year of Languages
- 2013: Books for mother tongue education
- 2014: Local languages for Global Citizenship: spotlight and science
- 2017: Towards sustainable futures through multi-lingual education
- 2020: Safeguarding linguistic diversity
- 2021: Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society
Various Awards and Recognitions are given to exemplary contribution in the field of conserving Mother Language such as:
- Lingupax Prize
- Ekushey Heritage Award
- Ekushey Youth Award