Acknowledging the cultural value of native languages
Students at the University of Findlay organized International Mother Language Day on February 21, 2019. The goal of the event was to encourage linguistic and cultural diversity, to recognize and celebrate multilingualism and to acknowledge the cultural and personal value of people’s native languages.
Forty-three percent of the estimated 6,000 languages spoken around the globe are endangered, highlighting the value and importance of International Mother Language Day.
The event is rooted in conflict. During the 1950s, Urdu was declared to be the sole national language of East Pakistan (now known as Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (now known as Pakistan), despite a majority of residents speaking Bangla. During a student rally in support of Bangla being included as a national language, police opened fire and killed several students.
International Mother Language Day is held on February 21 of each year in remembrance of the protestors and in celebration of the importance of language.
When she started classes at the University of Findlay in 2017, Bangladeshi student Sadia Akhter Aurna, noting no official recognition of International Mother Language Day, assisted by Dr. Hiro Kawamura, organized an event where people gathered together, sang and shared stories about their experiences with language. This year, Aurna said,“we wanted to make the event a little bigger.”
The students involved with the event created a video to share the history of the day and showcase some of the linguistic diversity present on the University of Findlay campus. The video highlights 18 countries and 20 languages, including Bangla, Spanish, Arabic, Finnish, Macedonian, Ibibio and many others. The video can be viewed at bit.ly/2VvKpcT.
Santosh Timilsina, a Nepali-speaking student at the University of Findlay, was the event emcee, with 50 to 60 people in attendance at the event, “it was rewarding to be able to tell other people about my country, to talk about the language that we speak,” Timilsina explained.
The focus of the International Mother Language Day was to share and take pride in each attendee’s own language and the importance of language in people’s relationships with each other.
Aurna points out that one language dies every week, meaning that each week we lose access to rich cultural history and knowledge. Events like International Mother Language Day help to keep languages alive. “We just want this day to be celebrated. This is such an important issue,” she said, “because language is such an important thing. It is a way people have attacked each other, and it is a way people can come together.”