Mother Language Day
from H.E. Mr. Jan Kavan, President of the Fifty-seventh Session
of the United Nations General Assembly
21 February 2003
order to preserve the cultural heritage of humanity, in November
1999, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed the 21st
day of February of every year as International Mother Language
Day. In a world of globalization, where a few languages take priority,
the United Nations and UNESCO sought to protect and promote linguistic
diversity and multilingual education.
recognition of the tremendous creativity involved in formulating
a language, given that there are some 6,700 languages spoken amongst
our planet's population, mother language was acknowledged as an
important and precious element of the cultural heritage and identity
of a community. The date 21 February was chosen in homage to 3
"language martyrs" from Bangladesh who were shot on
21/22 February 1952, during public demonstrations to promote their
mother language, Bangla, as a national language along with Urdu,
in the then newly created Pakistan. The origin of this day is
attributed to an organization known as "Mother Language lovers
of the World" in Canada who proposed this idea to the United
Nations and UNESCO and were told by UNESCO that this request should
be presented through a member state. The Government of Bangladesh
this day it would also be appropriate to pay homage to the memory
of Professor Stephen Wurm, an Australian of Hungarian origin,
who spoke some 50 languages himself, and who compiled the "Atlas
of the World's Languages in Danger of Disappearing." In this
work he has described the 3000 mother languages that are endangered
and the processes leading to their gradual extinction. Examples
of successful initiatives to save some of them are also provided
in this atlas. One such example is the mother language Cornish
in England that is said to have become extinct in 1777. Recent
efforts to revive it have been successful and now over 1000 persons
speak the language.
a tool of communication, the mother language has a powerful role
in the formation of the individual, and is " the most powerful
instrument of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible
heritage." In recognition of this phenomenon, in November
2001, UNESCO followed up the proclamation of the International
Mother Language Day, by promulgating the Universal Declaration
on Cultural Diversity. Protection of traditional knowledge of
indigenous peoples and combating illicit traffic in cultural goods
and services are some of the several aims of this Declaration.
Member States are encouraged to foster multilingual education.
Switzerland, Norway, The Netherlands and India are some examples
of countries where the populations are encouraged to be multilingual.
The Internet is a powerful tool to facilitate universal access
to cultural information, currently only available in libraries
and museums, to enhance knowledge and respect for cultures other
than one's own. Similarly Member States may adopt policies in
support of translation tools and multilingual electronic resources
as positive initiatives in defense of cultural diversity.
hope that the International Mother Language Day will inspire peoples
of the world towards mutual respectful tolerance of our rich cultural
traditions of which mother language is one of the most precious.