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Let “International Mother’s Language Day” Be a National Holiday in Canada – Akhtar Hossain

 

Those of us who live in Canada are aware that almost every month of the year there is one or more holidays to celebrate. Many have spoken about having a federal statutory holiday in February to maintain equilibrium between work and leisure.

In a statistical report it has been said that, Canadians are becoming workaholics day by day. That is, like alcohol we are getting intoxicated with work, work and more work. In this situation, many have suggested to declare a holiday in February as ‘Prime Minister Day’, paying tributes to distinguished Prime Ministers of the past. Many have said ‘what about having a Flag Day?’ I say, why not the United Nations-designated ‘International Mother’s Language Day?’

Many of us do not know that the UNESCO has designated a special day of the year as “International Mother’s Language Day,” which was initiated by a Canadian organization. The ‘Lovers of International Mother Language Club’ in British Columbia submitted a proposal to the Secretary-General of the U.N.O. suggesting that the 21st of February be declared as the International Mother’s Language Day. This proposal received the applause and support of the delegates of all the nations. In the Plenary Session of the UNESCO’s General Conference held in Paris in November 1999, this proposal was ratified by unanimous votes from 188 countries including Canada. From then on, the Mother’s Language has been drawing international inspiration.

A special day now being celebrated in the world was a Canadian proposal and we should all be proud of it. “International Mother Language Day” aims at promoting linguistic diversity, multilingual education and awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue”. The Atlas of the World’s Language in Danger of Disappearing pointed out that, “Of the 121 American Native Languages in Canada, only 6 are fully functional. About 10 are extinct. From all the other Indian languages in Canada, a total of 104 are threatened to varying degrees, with 19 of those moribund and 28 seriously endangered.

We know when the lives of animals are in danger the animal lovers come forward to protect them. Similarly, the green peace lovers protect the forestry. But, who is expected to protect the human languages that exist in Canada? We have already lost half of the mother tongues in this world and Canada is not a danger-free country. The disappearance of any of our languages is an irreparable loss for the heritage of all humankind. I am looking forward to all the Canadians to assist in this initiative by creating an awareness surrounding the importance of protecting our many mother tongues within Canada. In doing so, I encourage your support in designating a special statutory holiday, called Mother Language Day on February 21 where this awareness can grow even stronger.

 

There is none other magical tie in this world that can surpass the bondage of our mothers. The name of unbreakable shelter is being called mother. As flow of tears is to incessant rain, the glow-worm to the star, the mother is also infinite. The mother does not forbear simply carrying the child in her womb; she also feeds the child from her own body. The mother always comes forward to satisfy all this inquisitiveness. Revolving from north to south to east and west, the mother shows her newborn child; trees, rivers, moon, sun, stars etc. to the best of her ability the mother teaches the newborn in her own language. Highly captivated with his mother’s voice the newly born child tells his mother: “mother, your vocal word reaches my ears like a sweetened nectar”.

Thereafter the child keeps on growing, and at one-point leaves his mother to enter into his own world. His busyness overtakes him so much that he gets no time to spare for his mother. He repays his debt by sending her letters or cards: I am well, hope you’re well, and take care of your health. Whereas his mother wants to know if her child remembers the days of his childhood, the cozy days when he slept clinging onto his mother’s neck. Her memories of ‘lullabies’ and ‘twinkle twinkle little star’ rhymes evoke an under toned spell of sobbing. The mother says my rhymes and songs are getting vanquished. The language in which I taught my child about the trees, the rivers, and the moon, that language is going into oblivion. I am a woman from Brazil, so why no one will recognize the value of my language? The other mother would say I am an Inuit. I sang a lullaby for my child in the womb. Has my child forgotten his mother tongue? All mothers began speaking in unison: I am Italian, Greek, Korean, Punjabi, Vietnamese, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Bengali, and many more.

Imagine if Martin Luther King would have delivered his ‘speech’ simply by waving his hands before the public and gone! If he didn’t have a language in his tongue, would we have understood that he also had a dream? Isn’t it true that because a spoken language comes into our tongue, we started dreaming?

Though unbelievable this may be it’s true that of more than six thousand languages only a few mother tongues have survived. Don’t this civilized society owe its existence to the mother tongue? The language in which a human being first speaks, the language in which one becomes familiar with the world, are now becoming oblivious right in front of our eyes. Yet we remain silent. We had so much to do but when there was time we did not do anything.

Canada ranks the highest amongst the countries tolerant towards others’ languages and cultures. It has been mentioned in a census report that in Toronto alone, immigrants from 169 countries are living. Amongst the countries from where highest numbers of immigrants have come from, are China, India, Philippines, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, North Korea, Russia, etc. Naturally, each of them has their different mother tongue. We should not forget that still inestimable numbers of children are yet to come into this world. The language in which the mother will teach her child is the mother’s inherited prerogative? Let us not put an obstacle in its way. Let us not deprive the future children the rights to their mother tongue. Although in a familial way many remain committed to take steps towards preserving one’s own language, yet the urge for a particular solemnization day still prevails.