What International Mother Language Day Means to Me

On the 21st of February, the world celebrates International Mother Language Day.

Languages are the most powerful instruments for fostering and preserving heritage which is why this day is very near and dear to many people around the world, and why it is very important to me. The history of this day can be attributed to my home nation, Bangladesh. In 1948, Pakistan declared Urdu the official language of Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan. Bengali speakers throughout the nation could not accept this because their mother tongue was being suppressed. Students who wanted to use their mother tongue took to the streets in protest of this change. Some lost their lives and to this day are seen as martyrs for the right to speak one’s mother language.[1]

I was fortunate enough to be born in Bangladesh and lived there for 16 long years before moving to USA with my family. After coming to the USA, I was enrolled in school and, as is to be expected, I had to speak English all day at school. I clearly remember the growing anticipation as the school day approached its end perhaps a feeling many of my classmates felt. To me, the final bell signified an opportunity to go home and talk to my family in Bengali, my mother tongue. Although as a language enthusiast I also enjoy communicating in English and other languages, nothing can beat the feeling I get when I hear my Ma (mom) say “ami tumake bhalobashi” or the comfort I feel when I am sick and she asks “Ma tumi kemon acho?” These words offer a level of warmth and satisfaction which I cannot experience when I hear “I love you” or “How are you?” To me, every conversation in Bengali is charged with linguistic and cultural undertones that enhance the meaning of each word.

For these and many reasons, International Mother Language Day stands for the opportunity I have to speak a language which preserves my tangible and intangible heritage, traditions, and culture. As Nelson Mandela’s quote above suggests, when we, in our role as interpreters and translators, act as the mouth piece of others, we allow them to reach the hearts of their interlocutors. Therefore, it is our responsibility, as part of the language industry, to encourage and promote linguistic diversity and multilingual education—not just on International Mother Language Day, but every day. I am honored to be part of an industry that fully acknowledges linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world which is the first step in creating global peace and unity.

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