Best of times … Worst of times … International Mother Language Day
Syed Nasir Ershad
Every nation has some achievements that they can take pride in. Our language day is our national event. But the matter of pride for us is that this national event has crossed our home boundary and became universal. The International Mother Language Day is the recognition of our language movement and the heroic sacrifices of the language martyrs by the international community.
In Bangladesh a social movement was built on the spirit to defend the rights to speak, read and write in one’s mother language.International Mother Language Day was being observed since 2000 to promote peace and multilingualism. The date corresponds to the day in 1952 when students from the University of Dhaka, Jagannath College and Dhaka Medical College, demonstrating for the recognition of Bengali as one of the two national languages of East Pakistan, were brutally shot dead by police (then under Pakistan government) near the Dhaka High Court in the capital of present-day Bangladesh.
“Mother language” is the calque of a term used in several Romance languages — lenguamaterna (Spanish), lingua madre (Italian) and langue maternelle (French) — as well as the Sanskrit matribhasha and Tamil “thaimozhi”. The more literal and more common English translation is “mother tongue”, while “native language” has the same meaning and is also in common use. In linguistics, the English term “mother language” usually refers to an ancestral language, often a proto-language, relative to its descendent language family.
International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999. On 16 May 2009 by the United Nations General Assembly called on its member states “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by people of the world”. In the resolution, the General Assembly proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages to promote unity in diversity and international understanding through multilingualism and multiculturalism. The resolution was suggested by a Bengali living in Vancouver, Canada. He wrote a letter to Mr. Kofi Anan on 9 January 1998 asking him to take a step for saving all the languages of the world from the possibility of extinction and to declare an International Mother Language Day. He proposed the date as 21 February on the pretext of 1952 killing in Dhaka on the occasion of Language Movement.
Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.
The recognition of our language day and the proclamation of the observance of the day internationally is very significant.UNESCO’s recognition is not simply a recognition of our language movement, but it recognizes that it is the birth right of every nation or race to speak in their own languages.The proclamation also said that this recognition would help to preserve all the languages of the world and that diversity of languages is important to maintain cultural identity and distinction.
The importance of 21st February and its observance signifies something bigger. It sowed the seeds of our liberation war. Andimportantly, the language movement teaches us that we have to raise the voice for achieving our rights, for establishing our place of honor and dignity in the world. It teaches us not to bow down to any oppression. It also inspires us to sacrifice our most treasured thing for the sake of the country. So the importance of international Mother Language Day is very significant.
We are perhaps the only nation in the world to sacrifice lives for mother tongue. International Mother Language Day is a glorious recognition of our history and our achievement. It highlights the importance of linguistic identity. We are really proud that we have achieved something that has received global acceptance.