International Mother Language Day (IMLD) is celebrated annually on February 21 to promote global awareness of and respect for linguistic diversity and multilingual education. With the theme “Indigenous languages matter for development, peace building, and reconciliation,” this year’s IMLD is framed by the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL) 2019.
IMLD was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November, 1999. The UN General Assembly welcomed the proclamation in a resolution in 2002. The annual celebration commemorates the day in 1952 when four young students were killed in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, because of the Bengali and Urdu language controversy. The Shaheed Minar (Martyr Monument) in Dhaka pays tribute to the four protestors. In Sydney, Australia, an International Mother Language Day monument stands at Ashfield Park in loving memory of the four martyrs. The monument was promoted by the Ekushe Academy Australia, a Bangladeshi organization. It was unveiled on 19 February 2006 by Ashraf UdDoula, High Commissioner for Bangladesh.
The opening event for IMLD 2019 will take place at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. It will feature speeches by two permanent delegates to UNESCO and a representative of La Francophonie, a short video screening, and a UNESCO presentation of IYIL 2019 and IMLD 2019. Other UN agencies will also take part in the event. In Bangladesh, people will go to Shaheed Minar to pay tribute to the martyrs of 21st February and lay flowers on the monument. The day is also a celebration of Bangladeshi culture, tradition, and the Bengali national language. Prizes are awarded to individuals who made outstanding performances in language and cultural diversity.
According to UNESCO, a language disappears every two weeks, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. The annual celebration of IMLD is a fitting reminder to every one of the important roles that language play in many aspects of our society — “in development, in ensuring cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, in strengthening cooperation and achieving quality education for all, in building inclusive knowledge societies and preserving cultural heritage, and in mobilizing political will for applying the benefits of science and technology to sustainable development.”
As we celebrate IMLD 2019, let us also celebrate our nation’s languages that were formed by the unique culture and tradition of the various ethnic groups the make up our identity as Filipinos.