International Mother Language Movement (IMLM) is an inclusive community based movement. Given the historic connection to the genesis of Language Movement in 1952 by the Bangla (Bengali) speaking people in now what is Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi-Australian community in Canberra took the initiative to launch this movement with the vision of securing national recognition of 21 February as the International Mother Language Day (IMLD) and celebrating the day nationally under the auspices of the Australian Governments. IMLM aims to build a Mother Language Monument in a place of national significance in Canberra, Australia by the year 2016.
We welcome all the ethnic and indigenous communities in the Australian Capital Territory region to join in our endeavour to highlight the importance of preserving mother languages spoken by the different communities.
The organisational structure of this movement is expected to take a formal shape as we move forward to formally launch the movement encompassing all ethnic communities.
Significance of the movement
Language is critical for human society. It is through language that one communicates meaning and develop a sense of individual and communal identity.
Mother Language or mother tongue may be applied in many ways. The term ‘mother tongue’ or ‘mother language’, although widely used, may refer to several diﬀerent situations. Deﬁnitions often include the following elements: the language(s) that one has learnt ﬁrst; the language(s) one identiﬁes with, or is identiﬁed as a native speaker of by others; the language(s) one knows best and the language(s) one uses most. ‘Mother tongue’ may also be referred to as ‘primary’ or ‘ﬁrst language’ (source: UNESCO). Nelson Mandela once stated “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart”. Mother language is the most basic and valuable asset a person can own. Being able to communicate ones feelings, thoughts and emotions clearly in a way that is understood within its cultural context allows a person to communicate in a way that is unhindered by misunderstanding.
The increasing trend of globalisation has had a dramatic impact on the diversity of languages worldwide. Historically, colonisation, imperialism and mass migration have led to the demise of languages as one language became more economically and socially advantageous than other. In the twentieth and twenty first century, the speed of this trend has increased exponentially. Out of the estimated six thousand languages currently spoken worldwide, it is foreshadowed that if the current trend continues, half of the languages may perish during this century. Renowned linguists contend that the extent and rate of the ongoing loss in the world’s linguistic diversity is currently so cataclysmic that it makes the word ‘revolution’ look like an understatement.
In Australia, there was a systematic slaughter or removal of native people, combined with assimilation policies. While there were an estimated two hundred languages spoken in Australia before European colonisation, there are currently less than fifty that are considered healthy – that is, that are taught to children and still used for meaningful communication. The institutionalised racism and assimilation policies produced extensive resentment of the invading culture among the indigenous people and provided greater motivation for retaining their indigenous culture. This demonstrates that preservation of language is the preservation of unique culture and hence identity, a connection between land, water, the people and their language that serves to maintain community solidarity and dignity.
Language is immutably linked with culture and cultural identity. Therefore the demise of a language is a loss of identity for the community involved.
On 17 November 1999, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), in recognition of the supreme sacrifice of the Bangla (Bengali) speaking people of Bangladesh, proclaimed 21 February as International Mother Language Day. It urged member states to observe the day in a befitting manner to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity. UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova outlined the importance of valuing and preserving languages stating that, “Multilingualism is our ally in ensuring quality education for all, in promoting inclusion and in combating discrimination. Building genuine dialogue is premised on respect for languages”.
UNESCO’s decision was the culmination of the extraordinary efforts over few years initiated by expatriate Bangladeshi community. Bangladeshis took the lead to ensure global recognition of the significance of all mother languages.
On 16 May 2009, the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution A/RES/61/266 called upon Member States “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”. By the same resolution, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 2008 as the ‘International Year of Languages’ to promote unity in diversity and international understanding through multilingualism and multiculturalism.
Background of the International Mother Language Day:
The history behind the ground breaking initiative and the UNESCO decision had its foundation in Bangladesh and in Bangla (Bengali) language. In Bangladesh, 21 February is a commemoration of a historic campaign in 1952 to have Bangla recognised as the national language of Pakistan. On that sad yet very proud and historic day, a number of students of the University of Dhaka and some common people were killed by police and army in Dhaka during Bangla language protests. In fact the language movement of 1952 in Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) worked as a key inspiration for Bangladesh to achieve its independence in 1971.
To commemorate this movement, a solemn and symbolic sculpture was erected at the place of the massacre in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The day is revered in Bangladesh and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in west Bengal in India as the Language Martyrs’ Day. To echo the same respect for mother languages, many cities of the world followed the lead of Bangladesh and established ‘Mother Language Monuments’. A replica of the original monument of Bangladesh (Shaheed Minar) was built in Tokyo, Japan. Monuments are also built in Ashfield Park in Sydney, London and Oldham in the United Kingdom, Bari of Italy, Surrey of Canada and few other places.