International Mother Language Day is observed annually on February 21. The first observance was organized by UNESCO as a celebration of linguistic and cultural diversity. There are over 7,000 languages spoken in the world — this is a large number considering that some languages are better documented and more spoken than others. Many ethnic languages, some of which are still spoken by small groups today, will most likely be extinct in a few decades. This is why International Mother Language Day is so important, as it is part of a larger initiative to revive many communities’ linguistic heritage.
History of Language Day
UNESCO first established International Mother Language in 1999. The first inaugural celebration was held in 2000. This annual commemoration began as a tribute to the Bengali Language Movement, which sought to recognize Bengali as the official language of modern-day Bangladesh. Historically, this region was considered part of East Pakistan, and it had large Bengali communities with a distinctive language and culture. The plight of the Bengali language is representative of many similar ones faced by small linguistic communities around the world.
The Bengali movement’s plight can most likely be traced back to the establishment of Pakistan in 1947. The Bengali Language Movement began in East Pakistan’s Bengali communities and gained prominence in the early 1950s. To gain official recognition for their language, the movement held public meetings and rallies. In 1952, police opened fire on the Bengali Language Movement’s mass procession march. Several people were killed, and hundreds more were injured. The day of this incident was to be commemorated by Bengalis as a national holiday.
This story later inspired the United Nations to designate February 21 as International Mother Language Day. The U.N. initiative’s goal is to save the world’s languages from extinction. Since 2000, every international observance has had a theme. Each year’s celebration tries to add new elements to educational efforts to preserve indigenous languages and promote language learning. As a result, the celebration of the Bengali Language Movement becomes an international phenomenon that honors languages all over the world.
Language Day timeline
Bengalis march in a historic procession that ends in police violence that kills and injures countless people.
For the first time, Bangladesh observes Language Movement Day as a national holiday.
In commemoration of the Bengali Language Movement, the United Nations declares February 21 as International Mother Language Day.
In keeping with the annual commemorations of this day, the United Nations declares 2008 the International Year of Languages.
Language Day FAQs
How many languages are in the world?
There are more than 7,000 languages in the world still in use today, with only around 4,000 having a written form.
What is the most spoken language in the world?
Although English is the most widely spoken language, with over 1.13 billion speakers, Mandarin Chinese has the most native speakers, with approximately 1.11 billion speakers.
What is the hardest language to learn?
There are many difficult languages, but the hardest to learn are Chinese, German, Russian, and Arabic.
How to Observe Language Day
Take part in efforts
Several efforts will be organized to further enable the goals of International Mother Language Day, as one of the most widely celebrated international events. Volunteering with cultural centers can be a rewarding experience as well as a useful service.
Start learning a language
What better way to honor languages than by starting to learn one? This is not a simple task, but taking the first steps can serve as the foundation for a life-long and rewarding project.
Learn the history
The importance of languages in our cultures and civilizations cannot be overstated. As a result, learning the history of languages and how they evolved can be a good starting point for honoring them. Many events and discussions are planned during this international observance to shed light on these topics, with learning resources available.
5 Incredible Facts About World Languages
Least spoken language
Taushiro, or Pinche, is a nearly extinct language of the Peruvian Amazon, with only one living speaker.
Oldest written language
The Sumerian language is the oldest written language in history, dating back to 3000 B.C.
Most official languages
Zimbabwe has 16 officially recognized national languages, more than any other country in the world.
Most spoken languages
Papua New Guinea has 840 distinct spoken languages, making it the country with the most spoken languages.
The Khmer language, which is mostly spoken in Cambodia, has the largest alphabet of any language with 74 characters.
Why Language Day is Important
Many languages are endangered
Although there are many spoken languages today, the majority of them are in danger of extinction. This is one of the primary motivations for this international observance. Many languages are at risk of extinction because they are largely undocumented.
Languages develop through interaction with others
Every language has aspects of its syntax and vocabulary that have been influenced by other languages. This is how many languages evolved into their current form throughout history. Language preservation will help to keep the world's linguistic landscape rich and diverse.
According to several statistics, at least half of the world's population is bilingual. Multilingualism is becoming more popular not only for professional or educational reasons but also as a culturally rewarding learning experience.
Language Day dates