We continue our week of notable Canadian dates with coverage of International Mother Language Day. Did you know that February 21st is actually a significant day throughout the world? Eighteen years ago the United Nations declared February 21st International Mother Language Day to celebrate and promote cultural diversity, multiculturalism, and multilingualism.1
International Mother Language Day was created to help preserve linguistic diversity and encourage individuals to celebrate their unique cultures. There are roughly 7,000 unique languages spoken worldwide with 96% spoken by only 4% of the world’s population.2 Further, of the 7,000 languages only a few hundred are used in formal education systems, and even fewer are used in the digital media world.3 These statistics suggest that international awareness and appreciation of these cultures should to be encouraged. This is why the UN formally recognizes International Mother Language Day to raise awareness of minority language issues and encourage individuals to continue to pass on their unique languages.
Mayor Don Iveson formally recognized International Mother Language Day in the city of Edmonton in 2015. Over a third of Edmontonians speak a language other than French or English in their homes.4 As a multicultural nation, the city believed that they had a duty to promote, encourage, and accept the use of non-official languages. Mayor Iveson believes that “Keeping languages alive is important for the richness of our culture and the diversity that strengthens Edmonton.”5
The theme for 2017 is “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education.”6 The goal this year is to promote the availability of multilingual education throughout the world. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has launched an appeal for the use of “multilingual education to be acknowledged everywhere, in education and administrative systems, in cultural expressions and the media, cyberspace and trade."7 Bokova believes that increasing the availability of multilingual education will help prepare students for success. Students learn fundamental reading and writing skills in school but these skills are fostered when they are able to learn them in their mother tongue.8 Thus, increasing the number of languages in these institutions is necessary.
We hope that International Mother Languages Day will continue to raise awareness for minority language issues. We are excited to see how the UN appeal unfolds, and hopefully more language education options become available.
1 “International Mother Language Day 21 February” (2016), United Nations, online: <www.un.org/en/events/motherlanguageday/>.
4 Claire Theobold, “International Mother Language Day declared in Edmonton”, Edmonton Sun (21 February 2015), online: <www.edmontonsun.com/2015/02/21/international-mother-language-day-declared-in-edmonton>.
6 “International”, supra note 1.