Did you know that this past Wednesday was the International Mother Language Day? Odds are you weren’t even aware that something like this existed. The United States is a country that consists of many people with different cultural backgrounds and languages. One would think that more people would embrace celebration on this day.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially ratified the creation of this day unanimously on Nov. 7, 1999. The motion of this proposition was presented by Bangladesh to the world body to ratify Feb. 21 as the International Mother Language Day.’ The proposal was seconded by many countries, including Italy, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia and many more. In the end, at the 30th General Conference,’ Feb. 21 was declared International Mother Language Day.
Bangladesh has been celebrating this day since 1953. Feb. 21 was the day when many people were killed at a rally demanding that Bengali be made one of the main languages of East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh. The sacrifices made by these people aroused a sense of love and respect for their mother tongue and culture and eventually led to the declaration of war for the sovereignty of that country.
When I asked people on campus if they had heard about International Mother Language Day, many’ were not aware of it, including some professors.
According to Prof. S. N. Sridhar from the departments of Asian and Asian American Studies and Linguistics,’ ‘I am afraid I was not aware of this, and I have taught bilingualism on this campus for 20 years!’ Sridhar is multilingual and speaks Kannada and Telugu, both South Indian languages, his mother tongue, Hindi, and English. He can also read and recite Sanskrit and can carry a two minute conversation in German.’ Surprisingly, he has never come across the existence of this day.
Students I spoke to on campus, including Youstina Michael, a sophomore who is an Arabic speaker, and Maria Pia Castillo, another sophomore who is a Spanish speaker, also admitted to not having any idea that this holiday existed.
Of the people I spoke to who did know of this day, some were of Bengali origin. Hridita Saha, a junior, came to the U.S. from Bangladesh at the age of 14. When I asked her if she had ever heard about this day, she said, ‘It’s a very emotional day for me because I feel proud of the fact that Bangladesh was the only country that fought for its language and the only country that was born based on its language.’ It is easy to understand why she feels this, but more difficult to imagine why more people do not feel the same way about their languages.
Being a citizen in the U.S. and being able to bridge the gap between one’s own mother tongue and the English language is not difficult in the sense that adapting to English can be easily done. But’ being able to keep the knowledge of one’s mother tongue can become difficult. People have different opinions of this matter.
Saha said, ‘I believe it solely depends on the family. If parents want their children to learn their mother tongue, it’s possible to bridge the gap despite the fact if they are in America or any other foreign country.’
Others feel that it depends on where one is born. Michael believed, ‘If American born, then I think most are not able to bridge that gap between the two languages.’ It is often difficult for them to speak their native language. If immigrants, than somewhat yes…only because English is an international language and it’s easier for many to adapt while continuing to talk their native language.’
When I asked people if the International Mother Language Day should be made a national holiday, the majority were not in support of it. But they still believed that the day should be recognized and celebrated.