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International Mother Language Day 2024

Authored by British Online Archives
Published on 21st February, 2024 3 min read

International Mother Language Day 2024

“Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage” - United Nations

Today (21/02/2024) marks International Mother Language Day. The yearly commemoration, initially established in 1999, advocates for the recognition of linguistic and cultural diversity. It not only encourages the use of multiple languages, but also celebrates multiculturalism. The day acknowledges that languages play a crucial role in fostering inclusion. Hence, the United Nations asserts that "multilingual education grounded in mother tongues is an essential element of inclusive education". 

The incentives behind this international day has a rich cultural history, serving as a commemoration to the Bengali Language Movement of 1952. The Bengali Language Movement was a political movement, in the mid twentieth century, that advocated for the recognition of the Bengali language. The movement has since become an inspirational aspect of Bangladeshi heritage and culture. When Pakistan was created in 1947 it consisted of East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (present day Pakistan). The two areas were not just geographically distant, but was also vastly different in terms of culture and language. 

In 1948, the Government of Pakistan declared that Urdu was the sole national language, despite the fact Bengali or Bangla was spoken by the majority in East Pakistan. This decision sparked a great deal of outrage in East Pakistan and many protested for Bangla to also be added as a national language. The students at the University of Daka arranged a large protest on 21 February 1952. This protest turned violent when the police opened fire and many students including, Abdus Salam, Abul Barkat, and Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, were killed. As a result, the fatalities sparked extensive civil unrest, leading to numerous years of protests until the Bengali language was finally granted official status in 1956. These events were the catalysts of Bengali national identity and arguably became the forerunner for the Bengali nationalist movements. 

The language movement is not just a historical political movement, but the events on 21 February 1952 just goes to show the very importance of language and the continuation of traditional languages to the extent people sacrificed their life for their mother tongue. International Mother Language Day serves as a reminder of the Bengali Language Movement. 

Languages are much more than a means of communication, ones mother tongue reveals your individual identity, as well as your cultural identity, and traditions. Language remains the prime instrument to preserve identity. However, unfortunately, due to globalisation at least 43% of languages are under threat of disappearing. This is due to the fact only a couple hundred languages are taught within education systems and also the progression of the digital world has meant that less than 100 languages are used online. 

Language is at the heart of cultural diversity, how ones language is perceived in a different country can reveal a lot about multiculturalism. If a language disappears then its rich history and cultural heritage vanish too. International Mother Language Day is about promoting the preservation of all languages and growing awareness that languages play an important role in intercultural dialogue and cultural diversity. 

Authored by British Online Archives

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