TOMORROW, Saturday February 21, is the UNESCO-proclaimed International Mother Language Day, and Canberrans are planning to celebrate in style with a walk around Lake Burley Griffin to which all are welcome — you’ll even get a free t-shirt if you’re there.
Proclaimed by the General Conference of UNESCO back in 2007, the aims is “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”.
February 21 represents the day in 1952 when a bunch of university students in Dhaka held a demo to have Bengali recognised as a national language in the then East Pakistan. A number of students and members of the public were killed by police and army during the language movement protests, which served as an inspiration for Bangladesh to achieve its independence in 1971.
Languages, UNESCO says, are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. “All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.”
That’s really something to celebrate, say the Canberra organisers, many (though not all) of whom are from the local Bangladeshi community. Last year when they started the lakeside walk, about 300 people turned out and they’re hoping for more this time round.
They’ve have attracted interest in this walk from Indigenous communities and other whose languages may be perceived as dying out and have had hundreds of blue T-shirts printed with Language Day signage and they will be available free to participants in the walk, details of which are below.
In 2011 I visited Bangladesh as part of a contingent of 20 journalists from around the world and was struck by the commitment of pretty well everyone you met to the Bengali language. I knew that the Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore had been the first Asian Nobel laureate, but I hadn’t quite put that together with the enormous pride that Bengali-speakers in both India and Bangladesh had in their language.
Although national languages have played a part in independence movements, such as in Indonesia, the war in the 1970s that led to the formation of Bangladesh is the only one in modern times based on the right to speak one’s own language. Not surprisingly, Bangladeshis have taken the lead to ensure global recognition of the significance of all mother languages and through a series of meetings convened by Ziaul Hoque in the Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre in Civic, the movement has garnered considerable interest in multilingual Canberra.
The organisers of the Canberra-based International Mother Language Movement will celebrate International Mother Language day tomorrow with a walk across Commonwealth Bridge to Regatta Point, where there will be multicultural entertainment and free fun activities for children. There hope is to bring together people from different communities to raise awareness of the value of all languages, especially endangered languages, in a multilingual and multicultural context.
International Mother Language Day Free Language Walk, (1.8 km) starts at the International Flags Display behind Questacon carpark and ends in celebrations near Regatta Point, 10.30 am – 1.30 pm tomorrow, Saturday, February 21, all welcome.