Languages are undoubtedly the most powerful tool for communication among humans globally. Whether English, French, German, Nigerian languages (Igbo, Hausa, or even Yoruba), the need to preserve language is extremely important as it is a very significant symbol in any cultural or ethnic organization or group. Despite the complexities associated with languages especially as regards identity, social interaction and integration, communication, education, and development, the strategic role languages play for people and planet earth cannot be underestimated.
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There is no arguing the fact that the globe will loose its rich tapestry of cultural diversity if languages go into extinction. It is troubling to note that at least 43% of about 6000 languages all over the world are under threat of disappearing into thin air: every two weeks a language disappears, which means an entire cultural and intellectual heritage goes missing in every 14 days globally. Also, it is disheartening to note that just only a few hundred languages are permitted usage in the educational systems and public domain of certain countries, and below a hundred languages are used online. To promote and create awareness about different languages existent on earth, the United Nations established February 21, as International Mother Language Day.
International Mother Language Day
Celebrated annually on February 21, the International Mother Language Day is aimed at promoting and creating awareness of languages and cultural diversity throughout the globe. It is a day meant to remind the world of the fact that there are several other languages whose existence are threatened. Proclaimed at the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) conference on November 17, 1999, (30C/62), the observation of February 21 as International Mother Language Day was welcomed by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution A/RES/56/262, in the year 2002. Five years later on May 16, 2007, in its resolution A/RES/61/266, the UN General Assembly encouraged its Member States “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world,’’ and went further to proclaim 2008 as the International Year of Languages. In a bid to foster unity in diversity and international understanding through the use of multilingualism and multiculturalism, the UN named UNESCO as the lead agency for the year 2008.
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February 21 was a product of Bangladesh. The significance of the Day stems from an event that occurred in Bangladesh on February 21, 1952, which saw four young students murdered in Dhaka (capital of Bangladesh, owing to controversy surrounding the Bengali and Urdu languages. With the announcement of Urdu as the national language of Bangladesh in 1948, protests emanated against the government’s decision and would get out of control to the point that four students of the University of Dhaka lost their lives through gunshots fired by the police. Currently, February 21st of every year is celebrated as the anniversary of the day Bangladeshesis fought for the recognition of Bangla as national language, and observed globally as International Mother Language Day.
International Mother Language Day 2020: Languages Without Borders
The theme for this year’s celebration ‘’Languages Without Borders,’’ is meant to educate the globe about the fact that local cross-border languages can serve as a powerful tool towards promoting peace throughout the world and also in the preservation of indigenous heritage. For instance, speakers of Kiswahili across sub-Saharan Africa and Quechua in South America, share common cultural heritage with communities in their neighbouring countries.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization hold firm belief in the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity in building sustainable societies. It is within this framework that UNESCO strives to preserve differences in cultural and linguistic diversity, and promotes movements aimed at fostering tolerance and respect for others.
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