Mother Language Day - Bringing Us Together

23rd February 2018

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Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and planet. Yet, due to globalisation processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world's rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost.

More than 50 per cent of the approximately 7,000 languages spoken in the world are likely to die out within a few generations, and 96 per cent of these languages are spoken by a mere 4 per cent of the world's population. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given pride of place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.

International Mother Language Day has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

image: arms of different races uniting


International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in November 1999. The UN General Assembly welcomed the proclamation of the day in its resolution A/RES/56/262 of 2002.

On 16 May 2007 the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution A/RES/61/266 called upon Member States "to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world". By the same resolution, the General Assembly proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages, to promote unity in diversity and international understanding, through multilingualism and multiculturalism and named the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to serve as the lead agency for the Year.

This initiative not only increased awareness of language issues, but also mobilized partners and resources for supporting the implementation of strategies and policies in favour of language diversity and multilingualism in all parts of the world

The International Year of Languages came at a time when linguistic diversity was increasingly threatened. Language is fundamental to communication of all kinds, and it is communication that makes change and development possible in human society. Using — or not using — certain languages today can open a door, or close it, for large segments of society in many parts of the world.

Today there is growing awareness that languages play a vital role in development, in ensuring cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, but also in strengthening co-operation and attaining quality education for all, in building inclusive knowledge societies and preserving cultural heritage, and in mobilizing political will for applying the benefits of science and technology to sustainable development.


Today is International Mother Tongue Language Day and we caught up with 10th UNESCO Youth Forum participant, Fale Lesa, who works to promote the preservation of intangible cultural heritage. Fale is a passionate proponent of the importance of mother tongue learning.

"They say it takes a village to raise a child. But I grew up wrestling with more than one.

Native in Samoan and immersed in the rich culture and heritage I was confident at home, and in our wider ethnic community, where I felt accepted. School was that weird place where the sky was always falling. It was there I quickly discovered I was a minority and that most people had a very negative view of my kind. They laughed at the way I spoke and excluded me because I was unusual. So, in my desire to fit in, I pursued an experiment I am not terribly proud of today, perhaps shared by other immigrants too. I needed to be less Samoan for others to like me. It started by speaking with a polished accent, insisting that my relatives use English, even avoiding Samoan friends and replacing them altogether. It would take at least a decade before I realised inner demons were robbing me of an authentic experience. Here I was trading thousands of years in tradition and identity for just a few years of schoolyard popularity. The all too powerful language of the mob rule was drowning out my own voice. You see language is like a double-edged sword. It has divided us in much the same way that it has brought us together. It was the language of the majority that made me feel primitive rather than equal. A language of privilege that compelled me to use less of my own. Thankfully, I was one of the lucky ones and I now lead a life of duality. I am neither Samoan nor New Zealander. I am both and it is truly glorious! Sometimes, society fools you into choosing one or the other.

In just a couple of generations, half of all languages will vanish from the face of this earth. Each one with its own record of a people with mutual destiny. It seems in our haste to go forward, we too are selling ourselves short by abandoning those who came before us. When Polynesians left Asia to settle the Pacific, we brought our languages along for the voyage. In them, we spoke life to our unique customs and traits. Embracing their new surroundings, my ancestors also honoured ways of the old and would pass their wisdom down to this very day. I write for all of them and for the struggles like mine around the world that threaten our lavish tongues and ideas. Assimilation should never mean shame or disregard. It should symbolise coexistence and the preservation of lessons from the past as we charter a future together. I hope that my time at school dies with this generation and that we learn to value diversity as a strength. But most of all, that we may fight to save our endangered languages because each one is an anchor to our origin stories. Let the record show that there is no tomorrow without yesterday. That mother language day is as much a challenge as it is a celebration. Now is the time to champion technology and social change to help promote the survival of all languages. Congratulate someone who knows another language however small. Make them feel great because they are living anchors to our history."


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There is probably some other stuff that only sits in your head and your family would love to know. LifeLot ensures important information is passed through generations. In a medical emergency, a delegate will be able to securely access an Advance Care Plan or Will, and call upon other important documents when they're most needed.


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