Looking Back and Forward from International Mother Language Day

Tristan DeWitt, Writing Consultant Tristan DeWitt

This past Friday, February 21st, the University of Louisville Writing Center celebrated International Mother Language Day. This celebration offered me the chance to interact with students from different cultures and languages who are members of the university community, which opened my eyes to how diverse our campus is. If you are unfamiliar with this day, like I originally was, it has a fascinating history worth researching.

This observance was established by the United Nations in 1999 to promote multilingualism and language diversity across the world. The history behind this day has its roots in the Bengali Language Movement – a movement that emphasizes the stakes associated with multilingualism. On February 21, 1952, demonstration were head at Dhaka University, in what was then East Pakistan, against the adoption of a new state language at the removal of their mother tongue, Bangla. This event resulted in the killing of demonstrators who gave their lives to preserve their language. This event also lead to Bangla becoming one of the state languages of Pakistan. Until the writing center event this past week, I did not know the significance of this day, but I now have an entirely new perspective on the importance of multilingualism. As someone who grew up speaking English in America, the cultural significance of language was not something that often occurred to me, particularly not the impact that a loss of language can have on a culture.

As we celebrated on Friday, I realized that the relevance of this day within the university community and is crucial. As a university with over 700 international students and 200 scholars, recognizing and understanding the need for language diversity becomes even more significant, as language is foundational in preserving cultural tradition and diversity. The United Nations states that “When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost.” These characteristics of language highlight the importance in preserving an encouraging multilingualism, especially within our university community.

Instead of seeing language as a barrier, the university allows us the opportunity to learn from other cultures through a variety of ways. Even though International Mother Language Day has passed, there are still a number of ways to interact with a diverse range of cultures on campus. The University of Louisville offers a variety of ways for students to connect with and learn from other languages, ranging from classes to clubs, such as the American International Relations Club, which is open to all students interested in multilingualism. There are also clubs like the Arabic Language and Culture Club and the Chinese Club, as well as events like the French Film Festival (showing films until 3/7!), which focus on particular languages and cultures. By participating in these clubs and supporting more language diversity on campus, we can help to create an environment that fosters and celebrates a variety of cultures, viewpoints, and opinions.

If you’re interested in finding a club, a list of UofL organizations can be found here.

If you would like to become more involved in the community, here are a few places to start:

Americana Community Center

Kentucky Refugee Ministries 

La Casita Center

Interfaith Paths to Peace 

ESL Newcomer Academy 

 

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