International Mother Language Day - February 21, 2023

International Mother Language Day
Last Updated on: 25 Nov 2022

What is International Mother Language Day?

UNESCO established International Mother Language Day on February 21. They aim to celebrate linguistic diversity and preserve all people's native language or mother tongue. The day also commemorates the sacrifice of the students on February 21, 1952, who took a stand for their mother tongue, Bangla, in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Aside from the commonly spoken language like English, there are over 7,000 languages worldwide that large or small groups of people talk to. These languages may be lost in a few decades due to the extensive use of some other languages. So, the UN decided to mark International Mother Language Day to give importance to and revive various tribes' and communities' language heritage.

International Mother Language Day All Quick Overview

  • Time / Date: February 21
  • Category: Federal
  • Where It’s Marked: Globally
  • Why It’s Marked: The day promotes cultural diversity and honors all languages worldwide. It also marks the death of the four students in 1952 during the Language Movement of Bangladesh.

History Of International Mother Language Day

International mother language day

Bangladesh proposed the idea of February 21 as International Mother Language Day to UNESCO, which they officially declared on November 17, 1999. Since then, the day has been observed worldwide and is a tribute to Bangladesh’s Language Movement in 1952.

The day's history started when the Partition of India and Pakistan occurred in 1947. At that time, Pakistan gained two geographically separate regions, East and West Pakistan.

Both areas were different in cultural and linguistic aspects. East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) mostly spoke Bengali, whereas West Pakistan (now Pakistan) spoke Urdu.

The country had to decide on an official language for all the individuals, so they declared Urdu to be the only national language of Pakistan in 1948. Even though most East and West Pakistan population spoke Bangla or Bengali, they paid no heed to it and tried to force their order on the citizens.

On February 21, 1948, Dhirendranath Datta was the first to demand Bangla to be one of the national languages of Pakistan in the Constituent Assembly. But, the Assembly declined it, raising protests around East Pakistan for Bangla to be a national language.

The West Pakistan government tried to shut down the protests by putting orders out to hold no public rallies or meetings.

However, on February 21, 1952, a group of students of Dhaka University held massive rallies and meetings. They also had great support from the general public, and soon the protests took place in front of the university.

Pakistan's government ordered the police to open fire on the rally and disperse the situation. The incident was the first in the world where people gave their lives for their mother language. It caused the death of 4 students, Abdus Salam, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abul Barqat, and Shafiur Rahman, along with thousands of injured people.

February 21, 1952, shooting fuelled more protests throughout the country. Workers, writers, students, teachers, and other general public held strikes by defying the order of Section 144 on February 22 and 23.

The Bengali Language Movement continued until, in 1956, the government of Pakistan had to declare Bangla as an official state language due to massive chaos throughout the country. People built Shaheed Minar to pay respect to the martyrs at the place they died.

On January 9, 1998, two Bengalis who lived in Canada, Rafiqul Islam and Abdus Salam, wrote a letter to Kofi Annan, requesting him to save the languages and their heritages from being extinct by establishing an International Mother Language Day. In the letter, the two Bengalis proposed the date February 21 as International Mother Language Day to pay tribute to the tragic incident of the Language Movement 1952 in Dhaka.

Rafiqul Islam’s letter reached the Bangladesh parliament, and the Government of Bangladesh advanced an official proposal to UNESCO. Then, Syed Muazzem Ali, Permanent Representative to UNESCO, and Tozammel Tony Huq, then Special Advisor to UNESCO Secretory General Federico Mayor, took the duty of managing the proposal and processing it.

After a long wait, at UNESCO’s 30th General Assembly at the Paris Conference, the Assembly unanimously decided to announce February 21 as Internation Mother Language Day as a recognition of the martyrs of the Bengali Language Movement of 1952 in Dhaka.

How to Celebrate International Mother Language Day

Since the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the country has observed February 21 as Shaheed Dibash. It is a public holiday in the country when all the offices, banks, industries, and institutions remain closed.

The tragic story of Bangladesh inspired the UN to save the languages that are in danger of becoming extinct. They recognized February 21 as an important day to save the world's languages.

Since the first observance of International Mother Language Day in 2000, UNESCO has decided on a yearly theme and plans different events based on the theme. In 2022, the theme was "Using Technology for Multilingual Learning: Challenges and Opportunities.”

In Bangladesh, the day is more than just a celebration but also a remembrance of the 1952 Language Movement martyrs. Early in the morning, the Prime Minister, President, and other political members pay homage by laying flowers on the Shaheed Minar. After that, the general public is allowed to pay their respects.

People usually wear white and black during the day and spend the day learning the history of Bangla. They also enjoy festive meals and colorful fairs based on Mother Language day. Moreover, the people of Bangladesh celebrate their culture and love for the language.

The United States has organized the "Mother Tongue Film Festival" in Washington D.C. every year since 2017. 

In the United Kingdom, there is a replica of the Shaheed Minar in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel, London. People built it in 1999, so the community could pay homage to the martyrs by spreading wreaths and singing songs on International Mother Language Day. Aside from that, another replica of the Shaheed Minar in Westwood, Great Manchester, for people to commemorate Language Day on February 21.

In Spain, the Linguapax Institute of Barcelona holds the Linguapax Prize on International Mother Language Day annually for those who significantly contribute to Language diversity or multilingual knowledge.

All in all, International Mother Language Day has become an exceptional phenomenon that honors the Bengali Language Movement and works to promote the importance of mother languages worldwide.

Countries that Observe International Mother Language Day

Due to its proposal of Bangladesh to the United Nations (UN), Mother Language Day became an international event. All the countries around the world celebrate International Mother Language Day.

Interesting Facts about International Mother Language Day

International Mother Language Day is a special day to honor one's respective mother tongue. The day has some facts that you may find interesting.

  1. 33% of the world’s languages are in danger of getting extinct.
  2. International Mother Language Day is also known as Bengali Language Day due to its associated history with Bangladesh.
  3. Bengali or Bangla is the 6th most spoken language in the world.
  4. Bangladesh pays honor to the martyrs on February 21, which is called Shaheed Dibash.
  5. 40% of the world's population is declining in education due to not having the opportunity to learn their mother language.
  6. The world losses cultural heritage along with the loss of a language.
  7. There are approximately 840 languages spoken in Papua New Guinea.
  8. Although over 7,000 languages worldwide, half the world's population speaks only 23 languages.
  9. 14.4% of the world's population speaks Mandarin.
  10. There are about 300 languages spoken in London because of its diverse culture.

Unique International Mother Language Day Celebration Ideas

If you want to celebrate International Mother Language Day, we have some great ideas for you.

  • On this day, try to take on learning a new language and gather information on its heritage.
  • Try to speak your mother tongue without incorporating other languages.
  • Spread the importance of holding onto one’s mother language’s heritage. Let your friends and family know the importance of the day.

International Mother Language Day Quotes

On this day, International Mother Language Day, wish your friends and family they remember to respect their mother tongue. Here are some quotes to help you out.

“Languages connect us and break down barriers when we unite to nurture the best in us and help each other succeed.” - Widad Akreyi

“A warm smile is the universal language of kindness.” - William Arthur Ward

International Mother Language Day is a moment for all of us to raise the flag for the importance of mother tongue to all educational efforts, to enhance the quality of learning and to reach the unreached.” - Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General

FAQ

1. What is the purpose of International Mother Language Day?

The primary purpose of International Mother Language Day is to preserve the diverse linguistic heritage and promote eclectic cultural incorporation and multilingualism.

2. Which languages are hard to learn?

Learning a new language is hard enough for anyone, but learning Arabic, German, Russian, and Russian languages is the hardest.

3. Which country started International Mother Language Day?

Bangladesh celebrated Mother Language Day after its independence in 1971 which became international through the UN and UNESCO.

International Mother Language Day Observances

Year Weekday Date Name
2021 Sunday 21 February International Mother Language Day
2022 Monday 21 February International Mother Language Day
2023 Tuesday 21 February International Mother Language Day
2024 Wednesday 21 February International Mother Language Day
2025 Friday 21 February International Mother Language Day
2026 Saturday 21 February International Mother Language Day

We constantly update the dates of holidays that keep changing every year. However, while we revise and change some dates to be accurate, if you find any errors, kindly inform us . That will mean a lot to us.

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