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Language Liberation - Mother Tongue

By Saher Gole

On 21st January 1999 International Mother Language Day was celebrated for the first time in history. An idea suggested by Bangladesh, the day seeks to promote mother languages i.e. the languages we grow up speaking from early childhood. With rapid globalization, the English language has become the lingua franca of the world.

Edlodge recognises International Mother Language Day

Viral videos of people mocking others’ incorrect English or ridiculing someone for speaking in their native tongue are not uncommon. As career and life prospects are increasingly dependent on a small set of languages, the importance of one’s mother language has slowly been diminishing.

But why should we be concerned? As it stands, every two weeks a language becomes extinct. That means the death of an entire culture. People’s identities, their lives crumble. We must act to counter this and preserve the rich gift of language bestowed upon us across generations. 

There exists a universal consensus that education provided in a child’s mother tongue does wonders for academic excellence. Fittingly, this year’s International Mother Language Day theme is: ‘multilingual education - a necessity to transform education’. Unfortunately - according to the United Nations, over 40% of the world’s population does not have educational access in a language they speak or understand. This poses a major problem since learning can only happen when you first understand what is being taught. 

Now that the vitality of linguistic diversity is established, how can we possibly revive them from the brink of disuse and extinction?

First, we must break free from the chains of the supposed inferiority of native tongues. No culture, no language is greater or lesser. The myriad colors of language make the world a more diverse, interesting, and merry place. 

The promotion of minority and indigenous languages is essential - for they constitute the majority of endangered languages. This can be done via community programs and government legislation. The recently passed NEP 2020 (National Education Policy), for instance, encourages the use of a child’s native language in educational settings till 8th grade. 

Research shows that less than 100 out of the world’s 6500 languages are used on digital platforms. In the modern world, the importance of digital access cannot be understated. Steps like providing translations of webpages and user interfaces in an array of languages will not only help enhance the consumer experience but may save a language from dying off. 

Nelson Mandela once said, “If you speak to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head. If you speak to a man in his language, it goes to his heart”. Language is not just a means of communication, but a window to the outside world. It is via the mechanisms of language that we perceive the universe, interpret cultures, and understand people. The language we speak represents the tradition we inherit; it is a living, breathing symbol of the connections we build and the communities we share. 

So this International Mother Language Day, let us celebrate the wonderfully vast number of languages and embrace the wide spectrum of possibilities it offers us. 

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