21 Feb International Mother Language Day

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 8 Mar 2021

Dr. Ravi P. Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

Protection of Cultural Diversity

The UN had designated 21 February as   International Mother Language Day in a resolution in 1999. This had been done to promote cultural and linguistic diversity among peoples. The UN had also stated:

“When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity”.

Another factor was to emphasise that that no language is inferior to another, although some languages such as English or Spanish are widespread and others such as Konkani in Goa or Maori language in New Zealand have few speakers. Promotion of Mother Language also helps mental and physical development of a child.  The reason is obvious. The first words that a child hears are those of his mother who helps it grow up in numerous ways, not only in acquiring language but also in good and clean habits. There are also other significant benefits of this Day.

It is well known that thousands of world languages spoken by tribal people and other small communities have already died and many more are at risk in today’s globalised world. The indigenous peoples of several regions — the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, parts of Africa, the Indian sub continent and other regions have been losing their cultures, cuisines, languages and their identities over the last several centuries due to well known factors. Fortunately, Maori, an indigenous language of New Zealand, has survived the onslaught of English and has been designated as the second official language of the country.

The loss of local cultures and languages is due to colonialism and expansionism of powerful nations, globalisation of economies, emphasis by the colonial powers to boost their own languages and denigrate the local languages. It is a sad fact that Lord Macaulay, the British politician and historian, had in his 1835 Minute  denigrated Indian languages and literature that contained great literary epics such as Mahabharata  and tomes on Vedas  and Upanishads, etc. in his statement,

‘A single shelf of a good European library was worth more than the combined literature of India …’

The Mother Language Day boosts the importance of current surviving languages, associated literatures and cultures and fosters love for one’s own language. This ensures among other benefits, good mental development of children as they grow in the crowded regions that are   common in several parts of the world especially in Asia. Language is a means of not just communication but also learning what is happening around oneself and beyond. It is an essential means of acquiring knowledge of the world, as well as oneself.

By the latter expression, one refers to the spiritual nature of human beings that also needs language for expression. Many seers and spiritual persons such as Buddha, Christ, Krishna,Vivekananda  and others, promote spiritual well being, contentment and joy by written or spoken words as well as by their emphasis on looking within.

According to UNESCO, language is the very essence of human life. Animals and birds also communicate, but they do not speak the way human beings speak, write and present their thoughts through language — written or spoken.

In a recent article in a newspaper, the Indian Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu has written that several experiments have proved that learning through the mother tongue is deeper, faster and more effective. He has also referred to the learning of a second language — usually English in India. He feels and many scholars do agree that learning of a second language is easier if the mental base of a child is strong and resilient when acquired through initial learning in his mother language.

Recently it has been observed by Indian scholar Ramesh Bijlani that Sanskrit is our grandmother tongue, and it is being learnt in several European countries. It is also well known that it is the mother of several Indian languages— Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, and others. Similarly one may say that Latin is the mother of several European languages.

I will like to conclude by writing that the maternal grandmother is called Naani in Hindi and some other Indian tongues.

Naani, how sweet you are.  I love you beyond words!

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Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. ravipbhatia@gmail.com


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 8 Mar 2021.

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