International Mother Language Day 2024: Celebrating linguistic diversity and multilingualism

International Mother Language Day 2024: Celebrating linguistic diversity and multilingualism

February 21, marks the International Mother Language Day, a global observance that aims to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and to encourage multilingualism. The day was first proclaimed by UNESCO in 1999 and later recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in 2002.

The theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day is “Multilingual education – a necessity to transform education”. The theme highlights the importance of multilingual education based on mother tongue or first language, especially in early childhood and primary education. According to UNESCO, multilingual education facilitates access to and inclusion in learning for population groups that speak non-dominant languages, languages of minority groups and indigenous languages. It also contributes to the development of inclusive societies that allow multiple cultures, worldviews and knowledge systems to coexist and cross-fertilize.

The International Mother Language Day also commemorates the 1952 Language Movement in Bangladesh, where students and activists protested against the imposition of Urdu as the sole national language of Pakistan, which then comprised East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (now Pakistan). The protesters demanded that Bengali, the mother tongue of the majority of the population in East Pakistan, be recognized as one of the national languages. The movement was met with violent repression by the Pakistani authorities, resulting in the deaths of several demonstrators on February 21, 1952. The day is now observed as a national holiday in Bangladesh and a symbol of the struggle for linguistic and cultural rights.

The International Mother Language Day is celebrated around the world with various events and activities that showcase the richness and diversity of languages and cultures. Some of the events include:

  • A main event hosted by UNESCO, which will explore the main themes of multilingual education, multilingualism in crisis situations, and language revitalization. The event will feature speakers from different regions and backgrounds, as well as cultural performances and testimonies. The event will be streamed live on the UNESCO website.
  • A discussion at the UN Headquarters, organized by the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the UN, with senior officials from Permanent Missions and the United Nations on the theme “Multilingual education – a necessity to transform education”. The discussion will be followed by multicultural performances. The event will be streamed live on UN WebTV¹.
  • A webinar on “Multilingualism and the Sustainable Development Goals”, organized by the International Association of Applied Linguistics (AILA) and the International Federation of Modern Language Teachers (FIPLV), which will examine the role of languages in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The webinar will feature experts from different fields and regions, and will be open to the public via Zoom.
  • A virtual exhibition on “Languages of the World”, organized by the British Council, which will showcase the linguistic diversity and vitality of the languages spoken in the UK and around the world. The exhibition will feature interactive maps, videos, podcasts, quizzes and games that will allow the visitors to learn about the history, culture and challenges of different languages. The exhibition will be accessible on the British Council website.

The International Mother Language Day is an opportunity to celebrate the linguistic heritage and identity of each individual and community, and to foster respect and appreciation for the diversity of languages and cultures in the world. It is also a reminder of the need to protect and promote the languages that are endangered or threatened with extinction, as well as to support the linguistic rights and aspirations of all people. As UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said, “Languages are who we are; by protecting them, we protect ourselves.”.

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