International Mother Language Day: UNESCO says a language disappears every 2 weeks; over 600 endangered lingos in India alone

The 19th International Mother Language Day is being observed today world over, as the UNESCO-recognised event seeks to celebrate the linguistic diversity in the world.

Conceptualised and approved in 1999, the event was a result of an initiative by Bangladesh to celebrate the many languages and cultures found around the world. Yet, due to globalisation processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. UNESCO believes that when languages fade, so does the world's rich tapestry of cultural diversity.

International Mother Language Day: UNESCO says a language disappears every 2 weeks; over 600 endangered lingos in India alone

Representational image. Wikimedia Commons

The need for a world-wide event

Every two weeks a language disappears taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage - UNESCO data

The UNESCO website states that at least 43 percent of the estimated 6,000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world. It recognises any language that is spoken by less than 10,000 people is potentially endangered.

In India alone, there are at least 600 potentially endangered languages and are down to a last handful of speakers, research of literary critic and activist Ganesh Narayan Devy shows.

Among his interesting discoveries were — 200 words describing snow in the Himalayan region alone. Devy, who has documented close to 780 languages being spoken in India, revealed that over 250 languages in India had already died over the past 60 years. He said that when a language dies, “a unique way of looking at the world disappears.”

How is the event celebrated in India and abroad?

In India, often labelled Bhasha Diwas, or Matribhasha Diwas, the event sees various events being held at schools, colleges and government offices to foster tolerance and respect for other linguistic cultures.

The Central Board of Secondary Education, issued a notification directing all its nodal offices to ensure that schools falling under them mark the event. The University Grants Commission of India also directed all central universities  to promote the dissemination of various languages spoken in India and create awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions of our country. The UGC notification also told varsities to encourage the use of not only the prevalent language in their respective regions but also other Indian languages as well.

Internationally, this year the day aims at bringing indigenous languages at the forefront. The theme of UNESCO celebrations this year is 'Indigenous languages matter for development, peacebuilding and reconciliation'. The international body will mark the event with speeches by two Permanent Delegates to UNESCO and a Representative of la Francophonie. A short video screening and a UNESCO brief presentation of linkages between the International Year of Indigenous languages and International Mother Language Day will also follow. A debate entitled "Languages count" will conclude the event.

Moreover, the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services also came up with an interesting initiative, inviting people from world over send them your favorite proverb in your mother tongue on the following topics: peace, harmony, conflict resolution/competence to deal with conflict, mindfulness, resilience, well-being. The proverbs will be compiled, and the most appropriate ones will be selected to be published on its website and other digital communication tools.

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Updated Date: Feb 21, 2019 12:17:16 IST

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