International Mother Language Day is commemorated on February 21 around the world. It’s a day to honour the linguistic and cultural diversity. The world has more than 7,000 languages and the multilingualism is honoured through this day. International Mother Language Day reminds us how words connect us, empower us and help us express our feelings to others. India only has about 22 officially recognised languages, 1635 rationalised mother tongues, 234 identifiable mother tongues, according to Census 2001. International Mother Language Day was first celebrated in 1999 by UNESCO, a specific agency of the United Nations that stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
UNESCO has been observing International Mother Language Day for nearly 20 years and aims to promote mother tongue-based multilingual education. Every year, there are different themes to celebrate International Mother Language Day.
As 2019 is the International Year of Indigenous Languages, the theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day will be indigenous languages as a factor in development, peace and reconciliation.
Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, said, “Indigenous peoples number some 370 million and their languages account for the majority of the approximately 7,000 living languages on Earth. Many indigenous peoples continue to suffer from marginalization, discrimination and extreme poverty, and are the victims of human rights violations.”
On the need to protect mother-tongue language, UNESCO said, “Linguistic diversity is increasingly endangered as more and more languages disappear. Globally 40 per cent of the population does not have a way to an education in a language they speak or understand,”
The multilingual and multicultural societies exist through their languages which give and preserve ancestral knowledge and cultures in a sustainable way, it added.