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Ekushey February

Language is more than just a means of communication — it is how people express themselves and relay unique perspectives and ideas. Hence, International Mother Language Day reflects upon the diverse set of languages throughout the world and signifies the importance of linguistic freedom. 

Every year on Feb. 21 (Ekushey February in Bengali), this day is observed to honour individuals who sacrificed their lives in the language demonstration of 1952 in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), where protestors demanded the right to be able to speak in their mother tongue: Bengali. 

Language movement In Bangladesh

After the partition of India in 1947 — dividing the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan — Pakistan was further divided into East and West Pakistan. The majority of the population in West Pakistan spoke Urdu while most of East Pakistan spoke Bengali. 

After a mandate was passed that declared Urdu to be the official language of both Pakistans, university students held a demonstration protesting against it. However, police opened fire, killing many demonstrators. Today, they are called the martyrs of the language movement. 

The next day, many people walked the same streets to pay respect to the ones who died, which led to another demonstration. The police opened fire once again, killing more people. 

(Visual by Prarthobee Tariq)

Recognition of Mother Language Day internationally 

This movement in 1952 became an inspiration that ultimately aided Bangladesh’s fight for independence in 1971. In 2000, UNESCO declared Feb. 21 as International Mother Language Day, as a tribute to the language movement and to signify the importance of linguistic freedom. 

International Mother Language Day is an initiative that focuses on how multilingualism can advance the inclusion of cultures, individuals and societies. This would not only bridge the gap one has with their cultures due to the lack of language inclusion but would allow different perspectives and knowledge systems to coexist. Linguistic diversity is endangered, as more than 43 per cent of approximately 6000 languages spoken around the world are disappearing with time due to the lack of access to education in said languages. 

Themes and goals

Each year, this day has a different theme. The theme for 2019 was “Indigenous languages matter for development, peacebuilding, and reconciliation.” In 2022, the theme for was “Using technology for multilingual learning: challenges and opportunities”. 

This year’s theme was “Multilingual education: a necessity to transform education.” This theme aims to promote multilingualism inclusion in education sectors. About 40 per cent of the world’s population does not have access to education in the language they speak and understand, according to the United Nations. Hence, incorporating multilingual education would not only help with the preservation of language and culture but also aid in the understanding of the language thus allowing societies to accept different perspectives and cultures.

Importance of linguistic freedom and diversity

Linguistic freedom enables people to use language for expression without limitations or restrictions. It is a human right to speak freely in any language. UNESCO promotes the importance of having language as a way to relay different cultures, worldviews and knowledge to others. This signifies the linguistic diversity in the world which makes it culturally rich. 

Acknowledging and respecting the importance of linguistic diversity helps individuals understand the world from a wider perspective. Valuing linguistic freedom and diversity promotes a more inclusive cohesion between different societies with different perspectives where everyone has the platform to express and be understood. 

International Mother Language Day is a crucial reminder of the sacrifices made for linguistic freedom and signifies its importance in order to create a more inclusive world rich in cultural heritage and knowledge. 

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