Happy International Mother Language Day!

“Language is a city to the building of which every human being brought a stone.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Valentine’s Day isn’t the only day worth celebrating this February! Today, we’re celebrating International Mother Language Day.

International Mother Language Day, or IMLD, is a day in which people celebrate the nearly 7,000 languages that are spoken around the world. Since the proclamation in 1999 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), every year on February 21, people observe and preserve different languages and cultures while also promoting peace and multilingualism.

While International Mother Language Day is a day for celebration, its significance bears a sobering reminder of the struggles and sacrifices people in history have made for justice. IMLD is a way to commemorate the tragic events of the Bengali Language Movement in 1952. The Language Movement was an uprising in which many people lost their lives, fighting for the recognition of their mother language, Bengali, as an official language in the then-Dominion of Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). Each year, Bangladeshis remember the movement with a ceremony at the Shaheed Minar (“Martyr Monument”) at the University of Dhaka.

A monument built to remember those who died during the Bengali Language Movement in 1952.
Shaheed Minar, decorated for the annual anniversary in 2009.
Photograph by Mostaque Ahammed, accessed via Wikimedia Commons

Other countries also observe International Mother Language Day in recognition of the events in Bangladesh and to convey the importance of preserving all languages. This day reminds us that language is not meant to be divisive; instead, we should acknowledge what makes us unique. We can attain unity and compassion for others by taking the opportunity to explore languages we didn’t know existed and garner new appreciation for them.

Today, it is important not just to commemorate, but also to participate! Every year the United Nations chooses a theme for IMLD. The 2018 theme was “linguistic diversity and multilingualism count for sustainable development.” The 2019 theme was “Indigenous languages matter for development, peace building and reconciliation.” 2020’s theme is “languages without borders” and will promote peaceful dialogue and social inclusion.

By acknowledging and using the thousands of mother languages that exist, we can help sustain languages and ensure education for millions of people. What can you do this IMLD? Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  1. Browse social media to see what people are posting in their mother languages.
  2. Learn about a language and culture you know nothing about.
  3. Learn new words from a different language.
  4. Support organizations and campaigns that work to preserve languages.

International Mother Language Day is a day shaped by brave martyrs who came before us, and now it is a celebration of how our differences can unite us. We encourage everyone to spend this February 21 dedicating a little time to exploring and appreciating new languages!

For more information about IMLD, visit the United Nations’ website. To keep up with IMLD celebrations, follow #IMLD on Twitter and Instagram.

Interested in more great content? Follow UNG Press on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram and find our complete catalog on our homepage.