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International Mother Language Day 2021: An Effort to Foster Inclusion through Multilingualism

Written by Safira Tafani Cholisi, Content Writer Intern Project Child Indonesia

Ever wonder how humans are able to come up with wonderful innovations and achieve progress by working together? None of this would be possible without the existence of language in our lives. Language is the way we communicate with each other and reach consensus or express disagreement. It facilitates the sharing of ideas on a wide range of areas: how to conduct our daily lives, how to build a common space and how to find the solutions to the problems we face together in the world. Sometimes, language also becomes a way for us to grow kinship with one another. Those who share a mother tongue may feel as if they are connected to their roots, culture, history and traditions. When a parent recounts a folklore in their mother tongue while putting their child to sleep, it is not only a language but also an important piece of cultural identity and knowledge that is being passed down from one generation to another.

However, the disappearance of spoken traditional languages has recently become one of the greatest challenges to our world. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that 43% of the 6000 spoken languages in the world are facing the danger of extinction (UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 2021). While a lot of factors influence the emergence of this threat to languages, the most observable reason is because the lack of space given for these languages to be practiced. Standardized schools across nations are favouring several languages on the basis of preserving national unity or the usefulness of languages such as English, Chinese, Spanish and French to conduct business around the globe. As children begin schooling and learn specific languages formally, their chances to speak and practice their mother tongue are significantly reduced. Having been adapted to the world of modern languages, children can grow up struggling to maintain their command in their mother tongue. 

Indonesia itself houses approximately 718 languages, some of which are preserved through spoken practices instead of written (Sukma, 2021). The large number of languages spoken in the country has become one of the most known symbols of Indonesia’s cultural and linguistic diversity. Although Bahasa Indonesia is used as a universal language in the country, every region and individual is still commonly practicing their mother tongue. And yet, today’s easier access to technology and media poses another challenge that looms over the efforts to preserve the richness of language diversity in Indonesia. Especially for children in the urban areas, their mother tongue is being spoken less as common languages such as Bahasa Indonesia and English are becoming more mainstream. Without children and teenagers having proficiency of their own mother tongue, it is only inevitable that more traditional languages go extinct without having the newer generations preserve and carry them on.

To address this danger as well as promote multilingualism and cultural diversity, the International Mother Language Day is celebrated every February the 21st since 2002. The initiative was made by UNESCO not only for the purposes of preservation, but also to educate the public on the significance language holds in supporting development through communication. This year, the theme of “Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society” is adapted to ensure that language becomes one of the bridges to unite people from different backgrounds (International Mother Language Day, 2021). When it comes to communities living in rural and remote areas, communicating with them using their mother tongue can bridge the cultural gap and provide space for meaningful conversations and engagement. To maintain peace and guarantee an inclusive world for all, the International Mother Language Day is a way for us to ensure this so that no more languages are erased and that everyone’s part of a culture, tradition and heritage is conserved. 

References

International Mother Language Day. (2021). Retrieved 6 February 2021, from https://www.un.org/en/observances/mother-language-day

Sukma, B. (2021). Keragaman Bahasa di Indonesia: Kelemahan atau Kekuatan?. Retrieved 6 February 2021, from https://labbineka.kemdikbud.go.id/bahasa/konten/berita/3ef815416f775098fe977004015c6193

UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. (2021). Retrieved 6 February 2021, from http://www.unesco.org/languages-atlas/en/statistics.html

International Mother Language Day: A Celebration of the World’s Language Diversity

Written by Graciella Ganadhi, Content Writer Project Child Indonesia

Every one of us uses language to communicate with each other. Some of us might speak only one language, or some might be bilingual or even multilingual. No matter which group we belong to, we all have a mother language. According to the Great Dictionary of the Indonesian Language of the Language Center (KBBI), mother language is “the first language that is mastered by a person since birth through the reoccurring interaction with his/her language community.”

Even so, every two weeks, a language disappeared. Why? The answer is simple enough: globalization. The rapid growth of the world has blurred the border between communities. Languages, cultures, and traditions became mixed. Some flourish while some have to wither and eventually die. Languages that often are used in politics and business, such as English, Spanish, and Mandarin, will continue to attract new learners and speakers. Graphic shows that more than 43% of the estimated 6000 languages in the world are on the brink of extinction due to a lack of speakers. The disappearance of a language means a loss of memory, culture, and tradition that might as well be an opportunity and intellectual heritage for people of the world.

The United Nations declared February 21st as International Mother Language Day in hope of preserving the worlds’ languages and promoting linguistic and cultural diversity.

A Bangladeshi-born Canadian, Rafiqul Islam, presented the idea in 1998. He wrote to the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, urging the United Nations to pay attention to the continuous extinction of mother languages all over the world and to take concrete actions to overcome the issue. The date was suggested and then chosen to commemorate four young students who were shot by the police in 1952 during the Bengali Language Movement that took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Indonesia is known for its richness in culture and language. There are over 652 vernacular languages spoken all around Indonesia. Most children in Indonesia grow up speaking more than one language. Indonesian households typically have two or more languages spoken among the members. For example, children that grow up in Java and have Javanese parents are likely to have Javanese as their mother language and acquiring Indonesian later on at formal education. Albeit that, Ethnologue, a web-based statistical database of world languages, mentions that 138 Indonesian vernacular languages have been labeled as threatened, nearly extinct, and extinct. Most of the Indonesian vernacular languages don’t have the same privilege as Javanese, Sundanese, or Balinese. Lack of speakers and the decrease of interested learners are likely to be a possible reason.

International Mother Language Day serves to celebrate and honor differences between the world languages and to promote cultural, linguistic diversity and multilingualism. A multicultural and multilingual community creates a more tolerant society. Preserving languages and linguistic diversity mean preserving culture and tradition, the very same things that shape who we are as a person. It is our utmost duty to carry out this initiative, if not for us, then for the future of the world.

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