Colombo, February 21 (newsin.asia): The International Mother Language Day, which is celebrated every year on February 21, is of crucial importance. History and research teach us that the mother tongue has social, political, cultural and educational dimensions that the world can ill afford to ignore.
Mother Language Day aims to: (1) support pride in each Indigenous language; (2) encourage resistance to the hegemony of one language group over another as this invariably leads to cultural and political hegemony; (3) making education accessible to the masses; (4) fostering tolerance and inclusion in multilingual countries.
The day also highlights the need to save hundreds of endangered languages and revive languages thought to be dead, with a view to increasing cultural richness and ensuring linguistic and cultural diversity.
The role of Bangladesh
The idea of celebrating International Mother Language Day came from Bangladesh, a country that seceded from Pakistan to protect its language, Bengali, from erosion/cancellation by Urdu. In a way, the struggle for independence of Bangladesh began in 1948 with the movement to have Bengali recognized as an official language in Pakistan, on par with Urdu for several reasons, including the fact that Bengali was the language of 56% of Pakistanis. A milestone in the history of this struggle was the martyrdom of Abdus Salam, Abul Barkat, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abdul Jabbar and Shafiur Rahman at the hands of the police on February 21, 1952. This was the first instance of people sacrificing their life for their mother tongue. Later, in 1965, the Tamils of India sacrificed their lives in the anti-Hindi agitation in Madras.
Bengali became a co-official language of Pakistan in 1956, but at that time other issues of inequality between Bengali-speaking East Pakistan and Urdu-speaking West Pakistan emerged to gradually create a strong autonomy and independence movement.
It was the Awami League, the current ruling party in Bangladesh, that spearheaded the language movement. The parent party, the Muslim League, had represented Urdu and Urdu alone. One of the active Awami Youth Leaguers was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who eventually led the successful struggle for full independence. In this context, it was only natural that the international commemoration of the language movement should be offered to Sheikh Mujib’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina, when she became Prime Minister.
It was in 1999 that UNESCO was persuaded by Hasina’s government to recognize February 21 as International Mother Language Day. International Mother Language Day began in 2000. In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed a resolution calling on member states to “promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”. The aim of the UNGA was to “promote unity in diversity and international understanding, through multilingualism and multiculturalism”.
write in National geographic in 2018, Nina Strochlic cited the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger say that between 1950 and 2010, 230 languages died out. “Today, a third of the world’s languages have less than 1,000 speakers. Every two weeks a language dies along with its last speaker and 50-90% of them are expected to disappear by the next century.
Political persecution, lack of preservation and globalization are to blame for the decline in linguistic diversity. “For much of the 20th century, governments around the world imposed languages on Indigenous peoples, often through coercion. Hundreds of Australian Aboriginal languages have disappeared since the arrival of European settlers. Half a century after China annexed Tibet, dozens of distinct dialects with unique alphabets are on the verge of extinction,” says Strochlic.
But she also points out that most languages die not because of abject and outright persecution, but because they are rendered “unviable.” The lack of political clientelism, urbanization, globalization, migration and assimilation into other linguistic communities lead to the death of languages.
Linguistic hegemony in India
Write on the site News Click in 2019, scholar Purushothama Bilimale points out how the ascendancy given to Hindi in India not only relegates other constitutionally recognized national languages, but has also all but obliterated dozens of dialects that could become languages in their own right.
The People’s Language Survey of India listed 19,569 languages. The survey lists about 40 languages with more than 10 lakh speakers, 60 languages with more than 1 lakh speakers, and 122 languages with more than 10,000 speakers. Additionally, there are 99 other languages awaiting constitutional recognition for entry into Schedule VIII, Bilimale says.
Due to the promotion of Hindi, many North Indian languages that could be recognized as separate languages are left to decay and die. “This exercise has steadily emaciated pre-Hindi languages like Braj, Awadhi, Rajasthani, Bafeli, Bhojpuri, Bundeli, Maithili, Chattisgarhi, Garhwali, Haryanvi, Kanauji, Kumauni, magadhi, marwari, among others. Unfortunately, the Union government does not have an action plan to strengthen these languages and the Minister of Home Affairs does not have time to deal with these languages,” Bilimale complains.
The attempt to impose Hindi on Tamils in 1965 led to the virtual obliteration of national political parties in Tamil Nadu. But the Hind fanatics in the central government continue to impose it insidiously.
Effect on crops
With the death of languages or dialects, cultures would also disappear, say sociologists. When Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was at the heart of the Bengali language movement, one of his fears was that Bengali folk songs and poetry would no longer be used. Bengalis would have lost their distinction if Bengali had been replaced by Urdu. The Bengali language movement has faced obstacle after obstacle. Some key Muslim leaguers who had accepted Bengali as an official language tried to get rid of the Bengali script and adopt the Urdu script.
Linguistic awareness has also started to increase in Pakistan. There are intellectuals from Punjab, Sind and Balochistan who want the revival of these languages through official recognition and promotion. They point out that Urdu is only the mother tongue of a small number of people who had migrated from India when Pakistan was founded in 1947.
In independent Sri Lanka, the decision to move to Swabhacha (its language) of English in educational and governmental institutions, unleashed the enormous potential of the masses and unleashed new political and socio-cultural forces.
Value in education
Carolyn Savage writes in Independent education today says that a strong foundation in a child’s native language leads to a much better understanding of the curriculum as well as a more positive attitude towards school. When a child uses the native language, he acquires a host of other essential qualities, such as critical thinking and literary skills. It is these latter skills that they take with them into higher education.
“Research tells us that not all skills and concepts acquired in the learner’s first language need to be re-taught when transferred to a second language,” says Savage.
The importance of the mother tongue has been studied by Professor Jim Cummins of the University of Toronto. He found that the mother tongue makes it easier for children to learn other languages and helps to develop the child’s personal, social and cultural identity. and helps children gain self-confidence.
Also, skills learned in the first language do not have to be re-taught when the child switches to a second language as they do in college or university. Children who learn in their mother tongue enjoy school more and learn faster because they feel comfortable in their environment. Self-esteem is higher in children who learn in their mother tongue. Most importantly, parent-child interaction increases because the parent can help with the child’s homework.