International Mother Language Day

21 February

International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999 (30C/62).

On 16 May 2009 the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution A/RES/61/266 called upon Member States "to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world". By the same resolution, the General Assembly proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages, to promote unity in diversity and international understanding, through multilingualism and multiculturalism.

International Mother Language Day has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.

Promotion and Preservation of Languages

Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and planet. Yet, due to globalisation processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression – valuable resources for ensuring a better future are also lost.

In this context, it is urgent to take action to promote multilingualism, in other words to encourage the development of coherent regional and national language policies which give opportunity for the appropriate and harmonious use of languages in a given community and country. Such policies promote measures allowing each speaker community to use its mother tongue in private and public domains of language use and enabling the speakers to learn and use additional languages: local, national and international. Mother-tongue speakers of national or international languages should be encouraged to learn and use other languages of the country and regional and international languages.

As part of this commitment for multilingualism, the General Assembly of the UN has proclaimed 2008 to be the International Year of Languages, and named UNESCO as the lead agency.

The 2002 edition of the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing, published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), reported that half of the 6,000 or so languages spoken in the world are endangered, and with them an irreplaceable dimension of our knowledge and understanding of human thought. The process whereby languages are disappearing is a continual one and not a new phenomenon. However, the past 30 years or so have seen a dramatic increase in the disappearance rate of languages.

The causes of this phenomenon are multiple and complex. People tend to abandon their native tongues either because they belong to small groups immersed in different or unfriendly cultural and linguistic environments, or because they come into contact with an invasive or economically stronger culture. In such situations, adults, in full disregard of their own language, encourage children to learn the language of the dominant culture, not only to become competitive in the labour market but also to acquire social status.

By adopting the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity in 2001, the General Conference reaffirmed the need for urgent action to promote linguistic and cultural diversity, notably through safeguarding the linguistic heritage, fostering the learning of several languages from the youngest age and promoting linguistic diversity in cyberspace.

More details on UNESCO and linguistic diversity on following link: http://www.un.org/en/events/motherlanguageday/

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