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SIL joins annual observance of International Mother Language Day

(21 February 2010) During the eleventh annual observance of International Mother Language Day, SIL representatives participated in celebrations in the Philippines, at the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington DC and at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. International Mother Language Day provides an opportunity to recognize linguistic diversity and the importance of multilingual education. It originated as an international counterpart to Bangladesh’s Language Martyrs’ Day, which was established in 1952.

In her message for International Mother Language Day, Director-General of UNESCO Ms. Irina Bokova, said, “Languages are the best vehicles of mutual understanding and tolerance. Respect for all languages is a key factor for ensuring peaceful coexistence, without exclusion, of societies and all of their members.”

Dr. Paul Frank, Director of SIL International Relations, addressed those gathered 21 February at the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington DC: “Bangladesh provided the original inspiration for this annual worldwide observance. Bangladesh has celebrated this day as Language Martyrs’ Day since 1952, when many people marched to defend the right to use their Bangla language. And some people—the language martyrs—gave their lives for this cause. We are indebted to the people of Bangladesh for providing an example for all of us to follow.”

Dr. Frank also mentioned, “According to SIL International’s Ethnologue, some 3,500 of the world’s 6,909 languages are each spoken by fewer than 10,000 people. That is not very many people to maintain a unique heritage! We could easily be discouraged by such statistics, but we should not be. Instead, may such facts serve as a call to action. Languages need not be lost. For languages to remain a viable means of cultural expression, two things are needed: 1. communities need the capabilities, assistance and encouragement to develop their languages, and 2. they need a supportive environment for that language development.”

In the Philippines, where SIL co-sponsored the First Philippine Conference-Workshop on Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education, held 18–20 February, the schedule included a Cultural Night and Celebration of International Mother Language Day.

As part of the day’s events on 22–23 February, UNESCO in Paris is organizing an International Symposium on Translation and Cultural Mediation. Dave Pearson, Barbara Trudell, Agatha van Ginkel, Bill Bremmer and Maik Gibson are representing SIL at the Paris event.

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