2017 International Mother Language Day

February 21st is officially recognized by UNESCO as International Mother Language Day. I didn’t know about this day until 2011, when a couple of international students from Bangladesh introduced me to the origin of the movement to protect Bengali—(they’re the first two students in the video that we put together that year in the International Centre at the University of Alberta).

“Je te parle dans ta langue, et c’est dans mon langage que je te comprends” Édouard Glissant (1928-2011)

As a language learner, this day always reminds me of a quote from the Caribbean Francophone poet Édouard Glissant, which essentially says “I speak to you in your tongue, but I understand you in my language”. On that note, I really appreciated the 2017 message from UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, recognizing the occasion:

“We are beings of language. Cultures, ideas, feelings and even aspirations for a better world come to us first and foremost in a specific language, with specific words. These languages convey values and visions of the world that enrich humanity. Giving value to these languages opens up the range of possible futures, and strengthens the energy needed to achieve them. On the occasion of this Day, I launch an appeal for the potential of multilingual education to be acknowledged everywhere, in education and administrative systems, in cultural expressions and the media, cyberspace and trade. The better we understand how to value languages, the more tools we will have to build a future of dignity for all.”

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International Mother Language Day


Did you know that today is International Mother Language Day?  Even as a card-carrying language enthusiast, I had no idea such a day existed until an international student from Bangladesh told me about it five years ago.  We were working on a project together and he explained this wonderful day, which actually had its origins in the Bangladeshi people’s struggle/movement to maintain their language.  I really appreciated his explanation at the time because it helped to give some substance and direction to our project, which had originally started out as a simple ‘language exchange’ activity.  Take a stroll through the Wikipedia entry for an introduction to the history behind the movement.

While the Bengali Language Movement had its roots in a very charged climate of geopolitical upheaval (protesters were killed by the government of the day), many people today face a different kind of day-to-day challenge in keeping their mother tongue alive.  I found a good read in my feed this morning entitled Celebrating mother language day all year long, and it touches on a few of the (sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle) forces that nudge people away from nurturing connections to language communities with which they have some kinship.

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International Mother Language Day

Did you know that the United Nations celebrates International Mother Language Day every year on February 21st?

Collected a few clips of students using their own language to say ”  ___ is my mother language” as part of an event that will take place later during reading week.