February 21 is the day that UNESCO has designated as International Mother Language Day. Isn’t that a great holiday?
Multilingualism is a source of strength and opportunity for humanity. It embodies our cultural diversity and encourages the exchange of views, the renewal of ideas and the broadening of our capacity to imagine.
-Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General
This day not only is a celebration of our rich linguistic diversity, but is also a day to focus on practical measures. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Books for Mother Tongue Education,” and projects around the theme underscore the importance of written materials and mother tongue literacy for the maintenance of global language diversity. This theme is particularly close to my heart; my interests as a scholar (and general language fan) meet at the intersection of endangered language revitalization and writing. And for me the two are inextricable. David Crystal, in his book Language Death, argues that a written corpus is essential to the maintenance of endangered languages; in our hyper-literate world, any language which does not have a body of text just doesn’t stand a chance to capture the minds and hearts of young speakers. And as Irina Bokova argues, “Digital tools can help to fill this gap, but they are not enough. We must do more to distribute materials and books as widely and fairly as possible, so that all people – children above all – can read in the language of their choice, including in their mother tongue.”
In addition to the great resources on UNESCO’s website, you should also check out the Living Tongues Institute’s live “tweeting extravaganza” as well as this great featured interview with “global hero in education” and National Geographic fellow K. David Harrison.
Here’s to a world where every child has the opportunity to learn arithmetic, search an encyclopedia, and read their favorite stories in their very own languages!
Do you remember a book from your childhood that helped you broaden your capacity to imagine?