International Mother Language Day

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International Mother Language Day
Official name International Mother Language Day
Significance "To promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by people of the world"
Date February 21
Next time 21 February 2017 (2017-02-21)
Frequency Annual
Abstract outdoor monument reminiscent of a prison
Shaheed Minar (Martyr Monument), at University of Dhaka in Bangladesh, commemorates those who were killed in the 21 February 1952 Bengali Language Movement demonstration.

International Mother Language Day (IMLD) (Bengali: আন্তর্জাতিক মাতৃভাষা দিবস Antôrjatik Matribhasha Dibôs) is a worldwide annual observance held on 21 February to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. First announced by UNESCO on 17 November 1999, it was formally recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution establishing 2008 as the International Year of Languages.[1][2][3]


International Mother Language Day has been being observed since 2000[4] to promote peace and multilingualism. The date corresponds to the day in 1952 when students from the University of Dhaka, Jagannath University and Dhaka Medical College, demonstrating for the recognition of Bengali as one of the two national languages of East Pakistan, were shot dead by police near the Dhaka High Court in the capital of present-day Bangladesh.

"Mother language" is the calque of a term used in several Romance languageslengua materna (Spanish), lingua madre (Italian) and langue maternelle (French) — as well as the Sanskrit matribhasha and Tamil "thaimozhi". The more literal and more common English translation is "mother tongue", while "native language" has the same meaning and is also in common use. In linguistics, the English term "mother language" usually refers to an ancestral language, often a proto-language, relative to its descendent language family.

Group of people holding signs and banners
2015 Mother Tongue Day in Islamabad, with demonstrators demanding that Punjabi (the mother tongue of a plurality of Pakistanis) be made an official language of Pakistan
"Celebration of Ekushey February in Alberta, Canada"

International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999 (30C/62). On 16 May 2009 the United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution A/RES/61/266, called on its member states "to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by people of the world".[5] In the resolution, the General Assembly proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages to promote unity in diversity and international understanding through multilingualism and multiculturalism. The resolution was suggested by Rafiqul Islam,a Bengali living in Vancouver, Canada. He wrote a letter to Mr. Kofi Anan on 9 January 1998 asking him to take a step for saving all the languages of the world from the possibility of extinction and to declare an International Mother Language Day. Rafiq proposed the date as 21 February on the pretext of 1952 killing in Dhaka on the occasion of Language Movement.

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.

— from the United Nations International Mother Language Day microsite[6]


  • 1952: The basement of the day.
  • 1999: UNESCO proclaimed 21 February (Ekushey February) as the International Mother Language Day
  • 2000: Inaugural celebration of the International Mother Language Day
  • 2001: Second annual celebration
  • 2002: Linguistic-diversity theme, with 3,000 endangered languages (slogan: In the galaxy of languages, every word is a star.)
  • 2003: Fourth annual celebration
  • 2004: Children-learning theme; the UNESCO observance included "a unique exhibition of children’s exercise books from around the world illustrating the process by which children learn and master the use of written literacy skills in the classroom".[7]
  • 2005: Braille and sign languages
  • 2006: Languages and cyberspace
  • 2007: Multilingual education
  • 2008: International Year of Languages
  • 2009: Tenth annual celebration
  • 2010: International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures
  • 2011: Information and communication technologies
  • 2012: Mother tongue instruction and inclusive education
  • 2013: Books for mother tongue education
  • 2014: Local languages for Global Citizenship: Spotlight on Science
  • 2015: Inclusion in and through education: language counts (with an event in Paris)[8]
  • 2016: Quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes

International observances[edit]

Outdoor ceremony, with girls in red-and-white costumes dancing
Dedication of the International Mother Language Day Monument in Ashfield Park, Sydney, 19 February 2006

UNESCO chooses a theme for each International Mother Language Day, and sponsors related events at its Paris headquarters on or around 21 February each year. In 2008, the International Year of Languages formally began on International Mother Language Day.

People have shaped the way of celebrating International Mother Language Day. The celebration of the day among with the topic of multilingual diversity has inspired a number of international, national and provincial award ceremonies.

Celebration of International Mother Language Day[edit]

In Bangladesh[edit]

Group of people laying down flowers at a replication of the Martyr's Monument

In respect of the language martyrs (see Language Movement Day) — the lion-hearted students Rafiq, Jabbar, Salam, Borkot and so on who died during a protest at the University of Dhaka on February 21, 1952 — the people in Bangladesh celebrate International Mother Language Day by laying down flowers to the Martyr's Monument (Shaheed Minar) and replications of that monument.[9]

The people organize social gatherings, where they honor their language and culture, and hold literary competitions, draw Alpana on the roads, eat festive meals and listen to event themed songs, e.g. the "Amar Bhaiyer Rakte Rangano" (translated: "Coloured in the blood of my brother").[9][10]

Outside Bangladesh[edit]

International Mother Language Day is celebrated all over the world in countries like e.g. Chile, Russia, Philippines, Egypt and in Canada.[11]

In India[edit]

The Government of India has decided to promote and digitize content in all its 22 officially recognized languages. As a part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Digital India initiative, digitized content will be made available in 22 scheduled languages which will be extended to other 234 recognized languages of India.[12][13]

Sponsorship and Awards[edit]

International Mother Language Day has inspired multiple organizations to recognize individual people for outstanding services to the community, and for the preservation of linguistic diversity and connected topics. In Alberta BHESA's Ekushey Heritage Awards and MJMF's Ekushey Youth Awards were announced and distributed by Delwar Jahid, the President of the Bangladesh PressClub Centre of Alberta in separate occasions.[14][15][16]

International Linguapax Award[edit]

The International Linguapax Award is awarded annually on 21 February on International Mother Language Day by Linguapax International in Barcelona, Spain. It aims to recognize and award the actions carried out in different areas in favour of the preservation of linguistic diversity, revitalization and reactivation of linguistic communities and the promotion of multilingualism.[17]

Ekushey Heritage Award[edit]

Recipients of the BHESA Ekushey Heritage Award 2015

The Ekushey Heritage Award is an appreciation for people who stand out exceptionally in helping their community. It was introduced in 2014 by the Bangladesh Heritage and Ethnic Society of Alberta (BHESA) located in Alberta, Canada and is awarded annually. Today the award is open for people residing in the Province of Alberta, and considered is the work of the recipients in fields like education, social work, and community services. The achievement may be awarded to multiple recipients and is officially announced on International Mother Language Day.[18]

Ekushey Youth Award[edit]

The Ekushey Youth Award has been introduced in February 2015 by the Mahinur Jahid Memorial Foundation (MJMF) and will be awarded annually to recipients, who stand out inspiring a young audience with their work and contributions in the fields of education, sports, youth activities, literature and community services here. The honour may be awarded multiple times and is open to residents of the Province of Alberta in Canada. The Ekushey Youth Award is announced on International Mother Language Day.[19]

Implementation of Mother Language Day[edit]

International Mother Language Day is a public holiday in Bangladesh since 1953,[20] where it is also known as Shohid Dibôsh, or Shaheed Day. Though the day is observed globally but it is not a public holiday in other parts of the world. At 17 November 1999 the UNESCO General Conference officially recognized February 21 as International Mother Language Day.[21]

Implementation in Canada[edit]

Proclamation for the Province of British Columbia

International Mother Language Day has been introduced to the Canadian Parliament for recognition by Matthew Kellway on February 5, 2014. The introduction has been made in form of a Private Member's Bill, Bill C-573 (view Bill), the International Mother Language Day Act.[22]

In 2015 two Canadian provinces, the Province of British Columbia and the Province of Manitoba have passed proclamations to officially observe International Mother Language Day on February 21.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.N. General Assembly, Sixty-first Session, Agenda item 114, Resolution adopted by the General Assembly, 61/266. Multilingualism (A/RES/61/266)
  2. ^ Ingles. Cuerpo de Maestros. Temario Para la Preparacion de Oposiciones .e-book,. MAD-Eduforma. pp. 97–. ISBN 978-84-665-6253-9. 
  3. ^ Rahim, Abdur (19 September 2014). Canadian Immigration and South Asian Immigrants. Xlibris Corporation. pp. 102–. ISBN 978-1-4990-5874-1. 
  4. ^ "Espousing language mom taught us". Deccan Herald. 21 February 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  5. ^ "Resolution adopted by the General Assembly" (PDF). Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  6. ^ "International Mother Language Day". United Nations. Retrieved 21 February 2013. 
  7. ^ UNESCO, "International Mother Language Day 2004"
  8. ^ "International Mother Language Day Celebration 2015". Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  9. ^ a b Riya Karin & Shoha Islam, "Journey to Inclusion in & through Education: Language Counts", Bangladesh PressClub Centre of Alberta (BPCA), Published February 20, 2015 in the Mother Language Magazine 2015 (Page 31), Retrieved 2015-05-06.
  10. ^ Jonathan and Prithwi Raj, Ekushe February (instrumental), YouTube, February 21, 2012, Retrieved 2015-05-06.
  11. ^ City TV, Diverse-City 02.25.14, YouTube, February 25, 2014, Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ "International Linguapax Award", Website of Linguapax International at, Retrieved 2015-05-06.
  18. ^ "Ekushey Heritage Award", Website of Bangladesh Heritage and Ethnic Society of Alberta (BHESA) at, Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  19. ^ "Ekushey Youth Awards", Website of Mahinur Jahid Memorial Foundation (MJMF) at, Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  20. ^ Professor Kabir Choudhury, "21st February: International Mother Language Day", Bangladesh PressClub Centre of Alberta (BPCA), Published February 20, 2015 in the Mother Language Magazine 2015 (Page 34), Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  21. ^ "International Mother Language Day, 21 February", Website of United Nations', Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  22. ^ "Bill C-573, International Mother Language Day Act", 'Open Parliament at, Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  23. ^ Implementation of Mother Language Day in Canada, Published by Bangladesh PressClub Centre of Alberta (BPCA) at, Retrieved 2015-05-07.

External links[edit]