When a language dies, a cultural heritage does as well.


mother language day 2On the 21st of February, the international community will recognize the 19thannual International Mother Language Day. The UNESCO officially announced it on 17thNovember 1999, and it was first observed the following year. This day brings attention to the incredible diversity of native and minority languages around the world in recognition of their cultural significance.

Historically, the concept of a Language Day was conceived in Bangladesh in 1955 following the Bengali Language Movement which sought to have Bengali recognized as an official language by Pakistan, to which Bengal (now Bangladesh) used to belong. The international iteration of the Language day was also put forward by Bangladesh with the belief that “language teaching and particularly multilingual education are a key factor in the development of understanding among peoples and dialogue for peace.”[1]

Minority languages are dying out

However, whilst International Language Day is a celebration of the minority language, the reality is a lot less of a celebration. Modernization, a globalizing economy, and the homogenization of international culture are making minority languages die out at an unprecedented rate.

According to UNESCO “one language disappears on average every two weeks, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage.”[2]Indeed, the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, between 1950 and 2010 at least 230 languages went extinct and another 576 are categorized as “critically endangered”.[3]These figures are alarming in isolation; however, the future of endangered languages is even more worrying. Thousands of languages are at risk of disappearing in the coming decades. 90% of human languages are expected to disappear from the earth by 2050![4]


Importance of protecting mother languages


The devastating cultural impact of this phenomenon is precisely why International Mother Language Day is such an important date. Language is much more than a device for communication. They hold irreplaceable cultural significance, ancestral memories, and heritage, unique knowledge and traditions. These assets are lost at the moment a language disappears.

With the UN’s commitment to sustainable development, the protection of endangered language is more important now than it ever has been before. Without serious efforts to safeguard their futures, the rate at which languages will disappear from the planet will only accelerate. With 40% of the population unable to receive an education in a language they speak or understand,[5]is our responsibility to ensure that multi-lingual education, which is so crucial for social development, is available to all.

Consequently, our Sun Books program in Gulu-Uganda and Northern Territory in Australia aims to protect the mother languages of these communities. We develop educational content in their local language and English as well, this allows us to achieve a higher engagement rate between children and education.

Learn more about this program www.sunbooks.org 

Author: Reza Teimory