Photo credit: UNESCO International Mother Language Day
We’ve come a long way from insisting that bilingualism and multilingualism are debilitating to children, but we haven’t yet gone far enough, have we? Myths, misconceptions and stereotypes about our children’s multilingualism still run rampant in this world of ours.
Language is linked to so many different elements: culture, socio-economics, politics, psychology, history… the list goes on and on. When someone criticizes us for speaking our home language with our children, are they upset with our language or the fears that we conjure up in their minds? When bloggers celebrate the rising number of their own language speakers in a country, are they hoping it will represent a trend toward more socio-economic equality or that their cultural group will eventually come to dominate?
Language is Power
Language is powerful because it evokes emotions. It can move us to action and change our beliefs. Take away our emotional associations from our language(s) and we are left with a sequence of sounds that get us what we need but leave us empty inside; restless for something more substantial and comforting. Our emotional ties to our languages is what makes us whole and complete. But it also makes us vulnerable – a risk each of us must willingly take.
When it comes to emotional ties, our mother tongues are the bedrock. They were there before we even knew we were human, rocking in the abyss of our mothers’ wombs. Muffled intonations surrounded us from the moment of conception. Those rhythms bond us to something primordial and unconscious and can make us weep or cry out in joy.
International Mother Language Day
Today is International Mother Language Day. It is a day to remind ourselves of how we have been shaped and formed by our languages. Who would we be without our mother tongues? It is also a day to extend this understanding to others around the world – entire communities who lament the disappearance of their native tongues with no one left willing to carry them on. Is the burden too great? The return on investment too minimal?
This year’s International Mother Language Day emphasizes the right of cultures around the world to have what is called “inclusive education,” in particular for “vulnerable and marginalized groups.” Here is a quote from UNESCO’s Inclusion Education page:
Inclusive education is based on the right of all learners to a quality education that meets basic learning needs and enriches lives. Focusing particularly on vulnerable and marginalized groups, it seeks to develop the full potential of every individual.
The ultimate goal of inclusive quality education is to end all forms of discrimination and foster social cohesion.
At the bottom of UNESCO’s Inclusion Education post is a fantastic list of articles that discuss this in more detail. For example:
- A world without words? – Celebrating International Mother Language Day
- Colette Grinevald : “Speaking your mother tongue is not a disability!”
- Languages and the Realization of the Right to Education
- « The mobile phone is often called the computer of Africa »
Please head over to the UNESCO International Mother Language Day page and check out the rest of the articles. There are so many ways we can celebrate the diversity of cultures and languages around the world while helping to preserve them for generations to come.