Greg Dickson writes:

Happy International Mother Language Day!

… not that you were aware that today is actually International Mother Language Day. It’s one of those UNESCO/UN labelled events that is basically a name and has little in the way of actual events and promotion to support it. A bit like when 2008 was proclaimed the International Year of the Potato.

Still, International Mother Language Day has been around since 2000 and has a noble sentiment of promoting linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

For many Australians who have English as their mother tongue, there’s plenty to celebrate and we get to do so pretty much everyday, moving through our daily lives comfortably surrounded by our first language. Enjoying the artistry and creativity of our rapidly evolving and blooming language as it’s taken up by more and more people across the globe who use it in more and more creative ways. (I’m not being facetious here – seriously, the growth and domination of English is a thing to behold!).

But also spare a thought for the other languages spoken in Australia. And there are dozens and dozens and dozens of them. If you speak something other than English, today, more than any other day, use it. Or you could try finding out what languages your office mates speak. Or find out what other language(s) your cab driver speaks. The other week, I had an interesting conversation with a cab driver who emigrated from Poland decades ago and we chatted about how much he still uses Polish. Yesterday, my cabbie was a guy who arrived from Bangladesh three years ago and speaks Bangla as a mother tongue, which incidentally is the language mentioned on the UNESCO site for International Mother Language Day: 60 years ago, Bangla-speaking students were shot and killed in Dhaka while protesting against plans to use Urdu as the official language of what was later to become independent Bangladesh. That’s how important a mother tongue is – there is no more intimate relationship than the one between your own thoughts and ideas and the language in your head that helps form and articulate those thoughts.

Today, I’m back in the NT where hundreds of school kids who speak an Aboriginal language as their mother tongue are denied an education in their own language and Aboriginal language speaking people have little access to government services in their own language. The NT government’s policy which bans teaching in Aboriginal languages for most of the school day is still in place, despite Australia’s support of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People which clearly condemns such primitive policies (see Article 14).

So today, on International Mother Language Day, will you give it some thought? Perhaps a few small gestures of consideration towards linguistic diversity? Maybe just ask those questions about language that you always thought were too dumb to ask. Today, you have an excuse to do so (and you’ll probably find out they’re not silly questions after all).

I’ll try to.  I’m going to be extra aware of my privileged position of having English as a mother tongue. I’ll try to listen out for what other languages I hear on the street/bus/TV/radio. I’ll try to not be shy about taking an interest in what languages are spoken by people I talk to today. And I’m going to try to remember to speak as much and as many of the other languages I know, even if it’s just to make an annoying point and give someone the message that we don’t need English for everything, all the time.

But most of all, Que tengan buen día, príjemný deň prajem, 祝你一天过得愉快, hauskaa päivänjatkoa and bonne journée!

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