International Mother Language Day, 21 February

international mother language day (imld)

Languages act as a medium for preserving cultural history and traditional knowledge. The 2024 theme of the UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day (IMLD) is “Multilingual education – a pillar of learning and intergenerational learning”.

Multilingual and multicultural societies thrive through the preservation of their languages, which serve as conduits for traditional knowledge and cultural heritage.

— United Nations

The terrible yet inspiring events that took place in Bangladesh in 1952 led to the establishment of International Mother Language Day (IMLD) on February 21, when West Pakistani-dominated administration proclaimed that Urdu should be the only national language in 1948. The majority, Bengali-speaking population in East Pakistan, were incensed by this and began to demonstrate dissent. University of Dhaka students and other activists managed a demonstration on February 21, 1952. Four students were killed when the police opened fire and many individuals lost their lives in protest, to make Bengali one of East Pakistan’s official languages.

Mr. Rafiqul Islam, a Bangladeshi Canadian living in Vancouver, proposed that UNESCO declare IMLD. On January 9, 1998, he sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan requesting to establish an International Mother Language Day to prevent the extinction of the world’s languages.

This International Mother Language Day lets delve into the richness of India’s multilingual ethnicity. India is home to a diverse range of languages, emerging from multiple language groups, each with its own distinct richness and historical significance. Over millennia, numerous languages have developed and expanded, contributing to the intricacy and variety of India’s linguistic landscape. India is home to the third-highest number of languages in the world. It is believed to have 780 different spoken languages. There are about 19,500 languages or dialects spoken as mother tongues, according to other sources. In addition, linguistic reports state that 463 recognized languages and 121 native languages exist.

Language-Families in India

The Indo-Aryan language family has the greatest number of speakers among the language families spoken in India. According to estimates from 2018, this language family has around 1045 million speakers. Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Marwari, Sindhi, Assamese (Asamiya), Maithili, and Odia are the languages of this group that are most spoken.

With 277 million speakers, the Dravidian language family is the second biggest language family as of 2018. The southern and central regions of India are home to most speakers of the Dravidian languages like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam. In contrast, the Austroasiatic family is marginal in India, only about 3% of the population speaks it. These languages, mostly spoken by indigenous and tribal groups, include Ho, Mundari, Santali, and Khasi. They are primarily spoken in central and eastern India.

The northeastern state of India is represented by the Tibeto-Burman languages. A tiny portion of India’s population speaks more than one hundred languages, including Bodo, Meithei, and several varieties of Naga.

Due to the vast number of languages, there is no recognised national language in India but Hindi and English are the two official languages of India. The Indian Constitution first designated Hindi for the central government’s official purposes. Their applications are numerous and include the judiciary, administration, mass media, and education. Hindi continues to be the most widely spoken language, with Bengali coming in second, Telugu coming in fourth, and Marathi third. Indian languages, including Sanskrit, has a vast linguistic legacy by giving rise to many languages spoken outside of India.

Indian Language Schools in Vancouver

India’s linguistic legacy is being preserved by the Vancouver Indian Diaspora through various means, such as regional languages and community programs encouraging the study of Indian languages. Ganesh Hindi School run at Burnaby Hindu Temple, Bangla Vidyalaya by LMBCS, Tamil classes organised by Thamil Cultural Society of British Columbia, Kilbil Marathi Shala by Marathi Society of British Columbia, Malayalam School Canada, encourage learning, understanding and cultural exchanges in the Greater Vancouver Area.


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Nisha Chatterjee

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