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 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), every year on February 21st, people have observed and preserved different languages and cultures, while also promoting peace and multilingualism.

Photo by Aszadur Rahman Chowdhury via Flickr

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 them with a ceremony at the Martyr Monument at the University of Dhaka.

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. This year’s theme is how linguistic diversity and multilingualism count for sustainable development. By acknowledging and using the thousands of mother languages, we can help sustain languages and ensure education for millions of people. So, 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. I encourage you all to spend this February 21st 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.