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International Mother Language Day 2018

Mother languages day photo


International Mother Language Day has been celebrated annually on the 21st February since 1999.

Today people from around the globe will celebrate linguistic diversity, encourage multilingualism and promote the importance of mother languages.

The term mother language is used to describe the language that a person first learns as a child at home. For many the first language learned from birth forms an important part of their cultural heritage and identity. Sadly, many mother languages are currently endangered and at risk of becoming extinct.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, commonly known as UNESCO, regularly publishes a list of endangered languages. Ranked on a scale from ‘vulnerable’ (most children speak the language but it may be restricted to certain domains) to ‘extinct’ (there are no speakers left at all). At the time of writing there are 577 ‘critically endangered’ languages on this list, just one step away from being classed as ‘extinct’.

Among them is the Manx language, originating on The Isle of Man. The last speaker of traditional Manx died in 1975. Since then, however, the language has been undergoing active revitalisation in family, school and institutional contexts. It may be surprising to learn that Irish and Welsh are also on this list. Welsh is currently classified as a ‘vulnerable’ language. Irish is classified as ‘definitely endangered’, meaning that children no longer learn the language as their first language at home.

A United Nations report says that at least 43 per cent of the 6000+ languages spoken around the world are endangered. If this figure seems overwhelming, here are a few things you can do today to promote the importance of mother languages:

  • Take a look at the UNESCO list of endangered languages:
  • Speak to older members of your family to learn about your linguistic heritage
  • Discuss International Mother Language Day with your friends and colleagues

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