KHAAMPRESS: International Mother Language Day is an annual celebration of multilingualism and cultural diversity. February 21, 2016 will mark the 16th anniversary of International Mother Language Day. This day was officially recognized for the first time by UNESCO – the United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1999 and since 2000 February 21 is celebrated by nations around the world.
The Mother Language Day started in recognition of students from Dhaka University who sacrificed their lives during a demonstration in 1952 demanding a recognition for Bangla, their mother tongue, to be one of the official languages of East Pakistan. The students were shot dead on February 21 by Pakistani police in Dhaka. From that moment on, the Language Movement became the prominent protest which lead to Bangladesh independence in 1971.
On 16 May 2007 the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution A/RES/61/266 called upon Member States “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”. By the same resolution, the General Assembly proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages, to promote unity in diversity and international understanding, through multilingualism and multiculturalism.
The bond with one’s mother tongue is unbreakable. I am sure every one of us loves to speak in their own tongue because it is the language that we learn in our mothers’ lap, It’s our language that help us form the way we see things, express things and hence becomes part of our identity. When we come across a person speaking the same language, we do not feel the need of introducing ourselves beyond our names because our shared language automatically brings in all the details of culture and tradition. Language works as a carrier of all the cultural rules, nuances and categories. On the other hand when we come across people speaking a different language we always feel the need of knowing their cultural sensitivities and traditional rules for better understanding. For example in the beginning I was a little hesitant to speak in English, because I was afraid of making mistakes which may hurt the cultural sensitivities of native speakers. But with time I learned the culture and it gave me an enormous confidence to speak in English and interact with people.
After 9/11 many people around the globe became aware of Afghanistan and to an extentof its culture and traditions. A week ago, I was talking to one of my American friend who is working in Afghanistan, and asked her if I can arrange accommodation for her in my parent’s house where she would be very warmly welcome. The response that I got back from my friend made me very happy and I reflected on it for a bit. She said “you are always so kind and generous. A true Afghan”. Now here my friend identified me with my culture and hence my language because all these cultural values are encoded in our language. This clarifies the relationship of identity with mother tongue but the story does not end here rather it’s the point where our relation with our mother tongue begins. Like any other relationship, the relationship between a person and mother tongue requires commitment, honesty, faithfulness, love, respect, harmony, and protection. The above example of bangale students is very relevant in this context. They raised their voice in support and protection of their mother tongue.
The nature of this relationship becomes apparent when we take a look at the literature and scientific researchand its contribution to one’s education. I have lived in Germany for a couple of years. One day I was talking to my German friend and I told her that even though Germans knew that my German language skills were much weaker than my English skills but they still preferred to speak to me in German. Her reply to my enquiry was enlightening. She told me that it was because they were very proud of their own language and she was very happy to inform me that Germans have contributed enormously to both scientific and philosophical literature of their language. She felt so good when she mentioned that we have a world in our language that we have given to English and the world is Kindergarten – a preschool educational interaction for the transition from home to school. However the contribution of German langue is not limited to Kindergarten and has given great literature in science and philosophy to the world.
So what can we do to preserve and enrich our language?
In this age of technology there is a lot we can do. For example now there is Google translator, a software which translates languages. It was once unimaginable a generation back. We need to make the best use of technology and get our language enriched with knowledge and literature of both social and natural sciences.
With the help of technology we should try to make dictionaries, translate famous books and write our oral stories for our upcoming generations.Only with modern knowledge and literature, there is a chance that our language will not face extinction. The learning of our mother tongue will proved us the opportunity to study our culture and preserve family bond.
In this International Mother language day, I would congratulated all those who in one way or other has made effort to protect their mother tongue.
This International Mother Language day I would like to congratulate all those who in one way or the other have made efforts to protect and enrich their mother tongue. I wish we understand and appreciate the fact that each language has its own distinct characteristics and beauty which need to be preserved. Personally I speak six languages, fluent in four and able to communicate in two. It is a wonderful feeling to be called a multilingual.
By Huma Nasery
The writer is an Afghan analyst and writes on regular basis for her blog, online news portals and magazine covering issues related to Afghanistan. She holds a Masters in International Relations and Political Science.