Celebrating International Mother Tongue Day

21 Feb 2017
Celebrating International Mother Tongue Day

Today, the 21st of February 2017 marks International Mother Tongue Day, a day set aside to promote and celebrate mother tongue languages. The day has a painful history. In 1952, students from the University of Dhaka, Jagannath College and Dhaka Medical College were shot dead by police near Dhaka High Court in East Pakistan (then under Pakistan government, now known as Bangladesh) for demonstrating for the recognition of Bengali to be one of the two national languages of East Pakistan. It was however in 1999, 47 years later, that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed 21 February as the International Mother Tongue Day.

South African has a similar painful history when it comes to fighting for mother tongue languages to be recognised. In 16 June 1976 students in Soweto protested the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at local schools. The march turned violent when police started shooting at students, killing about 176 of them. The day, 16 June, is commemorated in South Africa as Youth Day.

Recently we have seen the same struggle for the recognition of mother tongue languages at the Stellenbosch University, where students are calling for the language of instruction to be changed from Afrikaans.

All of this, past and recent events, prove that the promotion of mother tongue languages remains an important task.

Across the world, organisations are observing the day by launching events and holding discussions. UNESCO is celebrating International Mother Tongue Day under the theme “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education”.

“To foster sustainable development, learners must have access to education in their mother tongue and in other languages. It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired. Local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus playing an important role in promoting sustainable futures” the UNESCO statements reads.

The National Library of South Africa is celebrating the day with a number of events which you can view here.

You can view events happening around the world here.

The other ways in which one can make a contribution in preserving their mother tongue is to translate it on Google Translate.

(Image courtesy of imgnaly)