Celebrating World Mother Language Day

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

—Nelson Mandela

Throughout history, the significance of language has been recognized. Language is important not merely as a tool of communication or sharing each other’s views and beliefs, it is a vital instrument which helps forge social ties and enables a person to define one’s culture, heritage, and identity.

Each and every language across the world has its unique cultural practices, distinct heritage, and traditional history. A mother tongue is the first language through which we learn to comprehend things around us; and subsequently, it plays a significant role in shaping our thoughts and invoking emotions.

Linguists have discovered hundreds of dynamic indigenous languages spoken by various communities, but whose existence has been threatened by our fast-changing world. Though the process of globalization has helped people across the globe connect with each other easily, but in doing so, it has posed an alarming threat to the very existence of local languages, due to which most of them are on the brink of disappearance.

However, the modern society is so caught up with Western culture that native languages have given way to the embracing of foreign languages like English. The younger generation has almost severed roots with the local languages, as a result of parents encouraging their kids to study English and denying them opportunities to learn their native dialects. Thus, what are considered as ‘modern’ or ‘metropolitan’ languages are rapidly increasing at the cost of indigenous, local ones.

Also, in search of a better lifestyle and job opportunities, people are moving out of their hometowns and villages, and children are often born and brought up outside their places of origin. Away from their homes, people start adapting to a new culture, new tradition, new environment, and a new language.

Besides having immense cultural richness, languages can also unlock knowledge pertaining to unique cultures in the spheres of medicines, ecology, climate, folklores, and spiritual practices. Many communities hold a rich trove of information about the territory they inhabit and the flora and fauna of that region.

When a language perishes, an entire community dies with it. It amounts to an irreversible loss for the whole of humanity, for the death of each tongue leads to the extinction of exquisite traditions, rituals and practices, memories, distinctive ways of thinking and expressing, art, music, poetry, literature, beliefs, dress, customs, skills, and knowledge.

UNESCO proclaimed 21 February 1999 as the International Mother Language Day in order to promote multilingualism and cultural diversity. Since February 2000, the day has been celebrated every year throughout the world to commemorate the martyrdom of four young students in Bangladesh in 1952, who gave up their lives fighting for their mother tongue. This extraordinary sacrifice by the language martyrs marks the epitome of a nation’s dignity, which perhaps makes Bangladesh the only nation worldwide to derive its name from its language—Bangla.

UNESCO has urged governments to take necessary steps to promote all local cultures and traditions. It advocates that children be taught in their respective mother tongues at the primary levels of their school. UNESCO also holds activities and events on International Mother Language Day on 21 February to recognize and celebrate the rich diversity of the mother tongues, particularly the minority ones, and make people aware about how important it is to preserve endangered languages.

Academicians and linguists have started making use of modern technology such as recording endangered languages in order to preserve them as spoken by the last of the native speakers. Besides technology, reintroduction and re-emphasis of languages by linguistic communities can save the vulnerable ones from withering away completely.

For the year 2018, UNESCO has advanced a new theme on International Mother Language Day: in order to promote sustainable development, children must be educated in their mother tongue along with other languages. Through prowess in the mother tongue, learners can develop the primary skills of reading and writing. This is because indigenous and minority languages transmit values, cultures, and customs, which further promote sustainability.

Niyogi Books endeavours to bring out beautiful books on the rich heritage, culture, and linguistic diversity of India. Our commitment to produce fine-quality books on diverse art, architecture, culture, and heritage helps our readers to embark on a beautiful journey to explore the traditional history and cultural heritage of our country.

Come, let us take a look at some of the masterpieces:

Folk Arts of West Bengal and the Artist Community by Tarapada Santra, where the author provides a vast array of the patterns of creative folk art of Bengal and talks about how regional influences brought about changes in the artwork of the craftsmen. The book is indicative of the author’s pursuit for indigenous efforts.

The Word is Sacred, Sacred is the Word by B.N. Goswamy, which exhibits the diversity and wealth of India’s traditions and presents India as a multicultural nation with a high value for knowledge. The book has received the Best Book Award, 2007, in the Reference Category from the Federation of Indian Publishers.

Barbed Wire Fence: Stories of Displacement from the Barak Valley of Assam, edited by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee and Dipendu Das, where the experiences of the immigrants of Bangladesh, who were forced out of their homelands during and after India’s independence, have been documented. The stories lend a voice to those Bengalis for whom the painful memory of their beloved homeland is further intensified by the fact that they are unwanted in Assam.

Bangladesh: The Price of Freedom by Raghu Rai, which recounts the plight of the refugees, war scenes, and the joyful celebrations of independence and victory. The volume consists of never seen before photographs, which comprise a significant body of work, documenting a decisive moment in the history of South Asia.

So, come, let us pledge on this International Mother Language Day to advocate the rights of each child to get access to their mother languages and promote a better attitude towards multilingualism. In encouraging linguistic diversity and advancing multilingual education, the spirit of solidarity, oneness, and understanding will be initiated.

You ask me what I mean
by saying I have lost my tongue.
I ask you, what would you do
if you had two tongues in your mouth,
and lost the first one,
the mother tongue,
and could not really know the other,
the foreign tongue.

—quoted from ‘Search for My Tongue’ by Sujata Bhatt

Last but not the least, we give to you a few words from, some of the mother languages in our country, for you to use and peruse, for everyone likes if you talk in their mother tongue…

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