Now, we know there’s a ‘national day’ for most things nowadays (Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, anyone?), but this weekend, there will be celebrations for one we think is quite important. Celebrated on the 21st February every year since 2000, International Mother Language Day is all about promoting awareness of linguistic diversity and celebrating multilingualism.
Here at Matinée Multilingual, we are passionate about all things language and communication, so IMLD is right up our street. So, why is it important? And what can we learn this year from International Mother Language Day?
Why do we celebrate International Mother Language Day?
Although International Mother Language Day has been celebrated annually since 2000, its origins actually date back much further.
In the late 1940s, the division of the Bengal province led to unrest regarding the national language of the newly-formed East Pakistan. The government declared Urdu as the sole national language, sparking outrage amongst the population, the majority of whom were Bengali speakers.
These protests led to the deaths of four young students on February 21st 1952, who died as a result of police officers opening fire at the demonstrators. Despite this tragedy, it was another four years before Bengali was announced as a national language on February 29th 1956.
Held on the anniversary of their deaths, International Mother Language Day remembers the four students who died fighting for the right to use their mother language. The day, organised by the United Nations, aims to promote linguistic diversity, encourage people to maintain their mother language, and celebrate the benefits of multilingualism.
The UN are passionate about safeguarding linguistic diversity, and see International Mother Language Day as a chance to promote this, as more and more languages become endangered. Each year, increasing numbers of languages from around the world disappear, which is one of the main concerns IMLD hopes to address.
What are endangered languages?
Every two weeks, a language disappears, taking an entire culture with it.
Ultimately, what puts a language in danger of going extinct is its lack of speakers. There is an estimated 6,000 languages spoken globally, with 43% of these endangered. In fact, nearly a third of the world’s languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers left.
If we take, for example, the Peruvian language of Resígaro, we can see how quickly the number of speakers of a given language can fall. So much so that, as of 2017, it’s believed that there is just one native Resígaro speaker left in the world. This is also a problem much closer to home as well, with languages like Manx and Guernsey French on the brink of extinction.
Of course, with such a vast amount of languages spoken in communities around the world, it would be extremely difficult to keep them all alive. Consider, too, the small amount of languages that have an established place in the public domain and it becomes clear why so many are becoming extinct. This isn’t to say, however, that we shouldn’t be doing our best to try and save them.
This is where International Mother Language Day comes in. Not only are the organisers passionate about native speakers maintaining their mother tongue, but they also encourage others to take on the challenge of learning one of these endangered languages. Through a number of examples, we can see this attempt at revival working.
Looking at the Irish language, for example, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was nearly on the edge of extinction. There has been consistent drops in the amount of daily speakers, and less than half of the country’s population claim to have the ability to speak the language. However, despite this, Irish is beginning to make a comeback, with more ‘new speakers’ of the language than there are native speakers.
Near-extinct languages like Welsh and Cornish are also starting to experience a revival, as well as languages like Hebrew and Catalan, which have famously been resurrected from extinction completely. These examples are key in highlighting why International Mother Language Day is important, as increased awareness and interest in these languages has ultimately saved them – for now, at least.
What are the benefits of learning a language?
One of the main aims of International Mother Language Day is to celebrate multilingualism and encourage others to take up a new language. Whether that language be endangered, or more widely-spoken, being multilingual can bring a whole host of benefits, both to yourself and to the world around you.
1. Improve your brain power
Learning a second language can improve your memory, problem-solving skills, concentration, and ability to multi-task. Not to mention the increased levels of creativity and better listening skills often found amongst multilingual people. So, if you find yourself becoming more forgetful, or easily distracted, learning another language may help improve this.
2. Connect with people and places around the world
Depending on which language you choose to learn, you could open yourself up to a whole new world of opportunities (literally). When travelling, those who can speak more than one language can more easily go beyond the ‘tourist bubble’, interacting and connecting with the place and its inhabitants in a unique way.
Not only that, but with language you can develop a better understanding of a place you perhaps haven’t visited yet, enhancing that cultural diversity that IMLD is so passionate about.
3. Take on a challenge and improve your self-confidence
Of course, learning a new language is not easy, especially if you opt for a lesser known one with fewer available resources. But by taking on the challenge and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, not only will you develop an invaluable skill in language, but also in self-confidence as you feel the satisfaction of mastering something new.
What you can do to help
Now, unfortunately, it would be extremely difficult to stop every endangered language from becoming extinct. And, of course, the benefits of learning a widely-spoken language would more often than not outweigh that of learning an endangered one.
But that’s not to say that International Mother Language Day isn’t important. As we can see from the examples of Irish and Cornish, it is possible for endangered languages to make a comeback, highlighting just how vital it is to keep talking about them and promoting their importance in communities.
As well as this, the organisers of International Mother Language Day are passionate about multilingualism in all forms, and seek to encourage others to learn a new language, whatever one that may be. We can be forgiven for not being able to learn the world’s most obscure languages which only have a handful of speakers, but we should still be promoting the importance of these languages and encouraging the maintenance of mother tongues.
If you’re looking to use a specific language in your next project, whether that be in the form of a voiceover or subtitles, why not get in touch with Matinée Multilingual today? We may not have all 6,000 languages covered, but we have a vast database of talented voice artists, and we can provide voiceovers, subtitles and translation services in over 80 languages.
Call us on +44 (0) 118 958 4934
Or email firstname.lastname@example.org