All about International Mother Language Day

  • 21 February 2015 | Cassidy Parker
Greet your guests in their mother language today. Image courtesy of World Bank Photo Collection

Every year, International Mother Language Day is held on 21 February. Created to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism, the day was first recognised by UNESCO in 1999, and observed for the first time in 2000.

In May 2007, the United Nations General Assembly called upon its member states ‘to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world’ and 2008 was observed as the International Year of Languages.

According to the United Nations website, ‘Languages 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.’

21 February was chosen as it represents the day, in 1952, when students from several educational institutions in Dhaka, the capital of present-day Bangladesh, were shot and killed by police for demanding recognition for their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan.

This history speaks to this year’s theme for International Mother Language Day: ‘Inclusive education through and with language – language matters.’

As you welcome your guests from all over the world to South Africa, try to welcome them in their mother language – not only on International Mother Language Day, but every day. More information on greetings in different languages can be found in our tourist toolkit.