International Mother Language Day
Celebrated globally on February 21st each year, International Mother Language Day is a day that celebrates and honors the diversity of the world’s languages and promotes cultural and linguistic diversity. It also honors the four students who lost their lives on February 21, 1952, because they campaigned to officially use their mother language, Bengali.
History of International Mother Language Day
In 1947, the Bengal Province of British India was divided according to the predominant religions of the people who lived there. The eastern part became a province of Pakistan known as East Bengal (later known as East Pakistan), while the western part remained in India. Over time, tensions rose between East and West Pakistan due to cultural and linguistic conflicts. These tensions led the Pakistan government to declare Urdu as the sole national language in 1948, which caused the Bengali-speaking majority of East Pakistan to protest. The government quickly outlawed these protests, but they continued. As time went on, tensions escalated.
On February 21, 1952, students at the University of Dhaka initiated a protest. Four of these students were fired upon and killed by police, which only strengthened the movement for the right to use their mother language. Over the years, unrest grew, and Bengali speakers continued to campaign for their linguistic rights. On February 29, 1956, Bengali became an official language in Pakistan. In 1971, the Bangladesh Liberation War led to Bangladesh becoming an independent country with Bengali as its official language.
In 1999, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) decided to designate February 21st as International Mother Language Day. The following year, on February 21, 2000, it was observed for the first time. Each year, the United Nations chooses a new theme for this observance day.
Celebrations on this Day
Each year, UNESCO hosts numerous events that promote not only linguistic diversity but also cultural diversity. This agency encourages people to maintain the use of their mother language and to learn additional languages as well. The United Nations also uses this day to announce policy changes related to language learning and support for this endeavor. In Bangladesh, this day is not only a U.N.-sanctioned observance but also an important day in their history. People across the country host parties and organize extravagant meals. It is also a day to celebrate the Bengali language and the culture of Bangladesh.
International Mother Language Day is an excellent opportunity for individuals to celebrate their own language or to begin learning a new one. It is also a good day to learn about the country of Bangladesh, especially for its residents.