“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”
Today is all about celebrating an essential part of our cultural heritage: languages. International Mother Language Day is intended to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. It was November 1999 when UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation) General Conference proclaimed it, and it has been held annually since 2000, every February 21.
Every year on International Mother Language Day the International Linguapax Award is awarded by Linguapax Institute, a non-governmental organization based in Barcelona, for outstanding contributions in the field linguistic diversity and/or multilingual education. Candidates are individuals of the academic community and civil society as well as entities or collectives. Nominations for each year’s prize are usually made public on 21 February of each year.
Apart from celebrating your mother tongue, International Mother Language Day is also the right time to think about the efforts of language preservation. According to Chelliah & Reuse, there are about 6800 languages in the world, of which 2-5 languages vanish every month. According to UNESCO, half of the languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century. One of the reasons is certainly the glottophagy or in other words linguicide. Glottophagy derives from Greek words glosa “language” and phagos “to eat” and is a phenomenon of big languages “eating” small ones, majority language “eating” minority language or standard languages “eating” other dialects. The other reason is the fact that only about 2000 languages have written form, which means that there are more than 4000 languages and dialects without writing system and have a higher chance of extinction.
It’s also interesting that only about 150 languages have more than a million native speakers. Half of the world speaks one of the 8 most widely used languages: Chinese, English (lingua franca), Spanish, Hindi, Russian, Japanese, Portuguese, German, as well as Arabic, French, Italian and Javanese.
Africa and Southeast Asia are the most linguistically diverse parts of the planet, while Papua New Guinea is the country with the highest number of spoken languages – 820. When it comes to writing systems, Latin, Cyrillic and Arabic are the most widely used. In Europe, Switzerland has the most official languages: 4 (German, Italian, French and Romnash) and Serbian is the only language with active digraphia, with Latin and Cyrillic alphabets.
Victor Hugo once said: ”The man who does not know other languages, unless he is a man of genius,necessarily has deficiencies in his ideas”.
Happy International Mother Language Day!