Developing a fuller awareness: International Mother Tongue Day

Friday of this week marks International Mother Tongue Day, which has been celebrated since February 2000, with a clear mandate from the UN to promote tolerance through recognising the diversity of linguistic communication in the world. This statement on the UN’s page devoted to the Day is striking: “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.

One of the greatest challenges facing the human race is being able to connect effectively and work together for the common good of humanity and for our planet. Technology is enabling us to overcome the difficulties of vast distance, and is helping to introduce us to other cultures and other ways of life, so that we can understand them better; if we can also appreciate language not as a barrier to communication, but as an enriching factor in this understanding of others, then we will move one step closer to the greater unity that we need to find in our world. Our task is conceptually demanding, both cognitively and emotionally – we must learn to appreciate that each human being is uniquely different, and to value this deeply and honestly, while understanding at an equally deep level that we are all fundamentally the same. Essentially, we have to learn to transcend the physical – and linguistic – appearances of difference, and seek our shared common values, and the core that unites us as humans.

It goes without saying that we all have a role to play in this task. We cannot leave this to the few – no matter how inspirational they are as leaders. This is something that we must all do – and must encourage others to do, in families and in schools. The first step is always one of awareness – let us be prompted in this by our reflections on this year’s International Mother Tongue Day.


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