International Mother Language Day

Celebrated on a global basis on February 21st every year, International Mother Language Day is a day the celebrates and honors diversity in the languages of the world and to promote cultural and linguistic diversity. It is also a day in which to honor the four students who lost their lives on February 21, 1952, because they had campaigned to officially use their mother language – which was Bengali.

History of International Mother Language Day

In 1947, the Bengal Province of India was divided according to the predominant religions of the people who lived there. The eastern part of India became a province of Pakistan known as East Bengal (later known as East Pakistan), while the western part of the country remained in India. Over time, tensions began to run high between East and West Pakistan due to various cultural and lingual conflicts between the inhabitants. These tensions led to the Pakistan government declaring Urdu as the sole national language in 1948. In turn, this caused the Bengali-speaking majority of East Pakistan to protest. The Pakistan government quickly outlawed these protests but they continued on. As time went by, tensions continued to escalate.

On February 21, 1952, students at the University of Dhaka started a protest. Four of these students were fired upon and killed by police. This only emboldened the movement to give people the right to use their mother language. As the years passed, unrest continued to rise, even as Bengali speakers came out to campaign for the right to use their mother language. On February 29, 1956, Bengali became the official language in Pakistan. In 1971, the Bangladesh Liberation War resulted in Bangladesh becoming its own county with its official language being Bengali.

In 1999, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) decided to make February 21st International Mother Language Day. The following year, on Feb. 21, 2000, it was observed for the first time. Each year, a new theme is chosen by the United Nations for this observance day.

Celebrations on this Day

Each year,  UNESCO hosts numerous events that promote not only linguistic diversity but cultural diversity as well. This agency also encourages people to not only keep their mother language in use but to also learn additional languages as well. The United Nations also uses this day to make announcements about policy changes as they relate to language learning and the support of this endeavor. In Bangladesh, this day is not only a U.N sanctioned observance day but is also an important day in their history books. People all over 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 a great day for a person 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 if you are a resident.

When is it?
This year (2023)
February 21 Tuesday
Next year (2024)
February 21 Wednesday
Last year (2022)
February 21 Monday
Education & Reading, United Nations