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International Mother Language Day 2020: Current Theme, History and Significance

International Mother Language Day is observed on 21 February to spread awareness about the importance of linguistic, cultural diversity and multilingualism. According to UNESCO, cultural and linguistic diversity is important for sustainable societies. Let us read more about International Mother Language Day, its 2020 theme, history and how is it celebrated?
Feb 20, 2020 15:02 IST
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International Mother Language Day
International Mother Language Day
p style="text-align: justify;">International Mother Language Day is celebrated due to the initiative of Bangladesh. On 21 February, 1952 four students were killed while campaigning for the use of Bengali as mother language officially in Bangladesh.

Let’s have a look at history.

International Mother Language Day: History

In November 1999, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) proclaimed International Mother Language Day (30C/62). The General Assembly of the UN welcomed the proclamation of the day in its resolution A/RES/56/262 of 2002.

In the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly A/RES/61/266 on 16 May, 2007 called Member States “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world". In fact with the same resolution, the General Assembly in 2008 proclaimed the International Year of Languages to encourage unity in diversity and global understanding through multilingualism and multiculturalism and named UNESCO to serve as the lead agency of the year.

No doubt this initiative increased awareness regarding problems related to languages and mobilise resources and partners to support the implementation of strategies and policies for language diversity and multilingualism in several parts of the world.

We can't ignore that language is fundamental to communication of all kinds and communication plays an important role in making change and development in human society. Let us tell you that the International Year of Languages was created when linguistic diversity was increasingly threatened.

International Translation Day

International Mother Language Day 2020: Theme

The theme of International Mother Language Day 2020 is "Languages without borders". The theme focuses on cross-border languages and helps to preserve indigenous heritage.

About 1952 Bengali Language Movement, Bangladesh

When Indian gained independence from British rule, the subcontinent of India was divided into a separate Muslim state (East Pakistan and West Pakistan) and a separate Hindu state (India). There was a cultural and lingual conflict between East Pakistan (today Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (Today Pakistan).

In 1948, the government of Pakistan declared Urdu as the national language and due to it, the tensions grew more. This decision of the government sparked several violent protests amongst the Bengali-speaking majority in East Pakistan. Some students of the University of Dhaka organised a protest with some activists on 21 February, 1952. Later that day, the police opened fire at the students, protesters and four students of the university were killed. The martyrdom of these students who fought for the Bengali language to be used as mother language officially is remembered on International Mother Language Day.

Finally on 29 February, 1956, Bengali was recognised as the second official language of Pakistan. In 1971, East Pakistan became an independent country namely Bangladesh and Bengali became its official language.

As discussed above the General Conference of the UNESCO in November 1999 declared International Mother Language Day and on 21st February, 2000 the first International Mother language Day was observed.

International Mother Language Day: Celebrations

UNESCO promotes this year’s theme "Language without borders" and promotes local, cross-border languages that will help to preserve indigenous heritage. Kiswahili speakers across sub-Saharan Africa and Quechua in South America share a common culture with communities in neighbouring countries. UNESCO organise several events on this day and encourage people to maintain their knowledge of their mother language and learn the use of more than one language. Several policies are also announced by the governments and non-governmental organisation to promote the learning of languages and support. Various activities are also organised in schools and colleges to celebrate the diversity of languages.

Linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened because several languages are disappearing. According to UNESCO, a 40 percent population of the world does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand. Therefore, it is necessary to make progress in mother tongue-based multilingual education with the need for understanding its importance.

Important Days and Dates in February 2020