On the 21st of February, we celebrate International Mother Language Day. This initiative, approved by UNESCO, aims to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and to encourage tolerance and respect. It also attempts to raise awareness regarding linguistic diversity, which is currently highly threatened, due to the globalization of languages.
The first edition of this international day was held in 2000. This year we are celebrating the International Year of Indigenous Languages.
The International Mother Language Day has its roots in the Bengali language movement. This movement consisted of a demonstration that took place on February 21st of 1952 in Bangladesh, a former province of Pakistan. Demonstrators fought for the recognition of the Bengali language as an official state language. This, because the central government had ordained Urdu as the country’s sole national language.
What is a mother language?
A mother language is considered to be the one that is acquired during the first years of our life. We learn it by imitating our surroundings and we use it to express ourselves in the most natural and fluent way. Over the subsequent years, we can learn other languages. However, it is our mother tongue that is used to give our most personal view of the world; the one that brings us the closest to our origins.
Therefore, it is undeniable that our mother language reflects our identity. With this initiative, UNESCO aims to preserve the identities of distinct global populations, represented by their languages, and promoting harmony between communities. Currently, some 7,000 languages coexist across the globe, of which 3,000 are in danger due to a variety of causes. Some of these languages are threatened by other languages, and some are being spoken by an ever decreasing number of individuals.
When a language disappears, it is not only the words that are spoken in that specific language that disappear. A different and enlightening worldview also disappears. There is no need to search for the usefulness of our mother language, or the mother language of others. Today, like every other day, we must take care of it, since it is part of our identity and our means of speaking out in the world. Learn as many languages as you can, but never forget your own!
About Antonio Leal Fernández
Graduate degree in Translation and Interpretation from Universidade de Vigo (2013). Translator and proofreader in the German and English to Spanish combinations.