International Mother Language Day

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International Mother Language Day
Abstract outdoor monument, reminiscent of a prison
Shaheed Minar, Dhaka (Martyr Monument) commemorates the 21 February 1952 Bengali Language Movement demonstration.
Official nameInternational Mother Language Day (IMLD)
Observed byUnited Nations
SignificancePromotes the preservation and protection of all languages
Date21 February
Next time21 February 2024 (2024-02-21)

International Mother Language Day is a worldwide annual observance held on 21 February to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and to promote multilingualism. First announced by UNESCO on 17 November 1999,[1] it was formally recognized by the United Nations General Assembly with the adoption of UN resolution 56/262[2] in 2002. Mother Language Day is part of a broader initiative "to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world" as adopted by the UN General Assembly on 16 May 2007 in UN resolution 61/266,[3] which also established 2008 as the International Year of Languages.[4][5][6][7] The idea to celebrate International Mother Language Day was the initiative of Bangladesh i.e. Bengali Country. In Bangladesh, 21 February (1952) is the anniversary of the day when the Bengalis i.e. Pakistani Bengali Muslims (now Bangladeshi Bengali Muslims) of the Pakistani province of East Bengal (now independent state of Bangladesh) fought for recognition of their Bengali language.[8] It is also observed by the Indian Bengalis of the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand and Tripura.


Procession march held on 21 February 1952 in Dhaka

21 February was declared to be International Mother Language Day by UNESCO on 17th November,1999. It has been observed throughout the world since 21 February 2000. The declaration came up in tribute to the Language Movement done by the Bangladeshis (then the East Pakistanis).

When Pakistan was created in 1947, it had two geographically separate parts: East Pakistan (currently known as Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (currently known as Pakistan). The two parts were very different from each other in the sense of culture and language. The two parts were also separated by India in between.

In 1948, the Government of Pakistan declared Urdu to be the sole national language of Pakistan, even though Bengali or Bangla was spoken by the majority of people combining East Pakistan and West Pakistan. The East Pakistan people protested since the majority of the population was from East Pakistan and their mother language was Bangla. They demanded Bangla to be at least one of the national languages, in addition to Urdu. The demand was raised first by Dhirendranath Datta from East Pakistan on 23 February 1948, in the constituent Assembly of Pakistan.

To demolish the protest, the government of Pakistan outlawed public meeting and rallies. The students of the University of Dhaka, with the support of the general public, arranged massive rallies and meetings. On 21 February 1952, police opened fire on rallies. Abdus Salam, Abul Barkat, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abdul Jabbar and Shafiur Rahman died, with hundreds of others injured. This was a rare incident in history, where people sacrificed their lives for their mother tongue.[9][10]

Since then, Bangladeshis celebrate the International Mother Language Day as one of their tragic days. They visit the Shaheed Minar, a monument built in memory of the martyrs and its replicas to express their deep sorrow, respect and gratitude to them.[citation needed][11][12]

International Mother Language Day is a national holiday in Bangladesh. The resolution was suggested by Rafiqul Islam and Abdus Salam, Bengalis living in Vancouver, Canada. They wrote a letter to Kofi Annan on 9 January 1998 asking him to take a step for saving the world's languages from extinction by declaring an International Mother Language Day. Rafiq proposed the date as 21 February to commemorate the 1952 killings in Dhaka during the 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[13]

Rafiqul Islam's proposal was introduced in the Bangladesh parliament and in due course (at the behest of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina) a formal proposal was submitted to UNESCO by the Government of Bangladesh. The process of shepherding the proposal through UNESCO's regulatory system was undertaken by Syed Muazzem Ali, then Bangladesh ambassador to France and Permanent Representative to UNESCO, and Tozammel Tony Huq, his predecessor, who was then a Special Adviser to UNESCO Secretary General Federico Mayor. Finally on 17 November 1999, the 30th General Assembly of UNESCO unanimously resolved that "21st February be proclaimed International Mother Language Day throughout the world to commemorate the martyrs who sacrificed their lives on this very day in 1952."[14]


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
People laying flowers at a simple indoor shrine
Commemorating IMLD in Canada
  • 2022: Annual theme: "Using technology for multilingual learning: Challenges and opportunities"[29]|


UNESCO chooses a theme for each International Mother Language Day, and sponsors related events at its Paris headquarters. In 2008, the International Year of Languages began on International Mother Language Day. It is celebrated in Chile, Russia, the Philippines, Egypt and Canada.[30]


Procession toward Central Shaheed Minar at 2023 International Mother Language Day

Bangladeshis celebrate International Mother Language Day by placing flowers at the Martyrs' Monument and its replicas.[31] A public holiday in the country since 1953,[32] it is also known as Shohid Dibôsh (Martyr Day). On 17 November 1999, the UNESCO General Conference recognized 21 February as International Mother Language Day.[33] Bangladeshis organize social gatherings honoring their language and culture, hold literary competitions, draw alpana on the roads, eat festive meals and listen to songs.[31][34] Bangla Academy arranges Ekushey Book Fair in Dhaka for the whole month of February.[35]


IMLD British Columbia proclamation

International Mother Language Day was introduced to the Parliament of Canada for recognition by Matthew Kellway on 5 February 2014 as a private member's bill, C-573.[36][37]

In 2015, British Columbia and Manitoba issued proclamations observing International Mother Language Day on 21 February.[38] Edmonton observed International Mother Language Day on 21 February 2017.[39] Edmonton Ekushey observed by Bangladesh Heritage & Ethnic Society and Diverse Edmonton with due respect in Edmonton on 23 February 2020.[40]


As part of Digital India initiative, digitized content will be made available in the country's 22 scheduled languages and extended to India's other 234 recognized languages. Digitization began in June 2016 through the Bharatavani Project at the Central Institute of Indian Languages in Mysore, and by February 2017 content in 60 Indian languages had been made available free of charge.[41][42][43]

United States[edit]

The Mother Tongue Film Festival in Washington, D.C., has been held since 2017 to coincide with Mother Languages Day.

United Kingdom[edit]

A replica of Dhaka's Shaheed Minar was built in London in 1999 in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel. Members of the community come here to mark International Mother Language Day by laying wreaths and singing revolutionary songs.[44][45]

There is also a Shaheed Minar replica in Westwood, Greater Manchester. Community members come from across North England to mark International Mother Language Day at the monument.[46]


Linguapax Prize[edit]

The Linguapax Prize is awarded annually on IMLD by the Linguapax Institute in Barcelona. The prize recognizes outstanding achievement in the preservation of linguistic diversity, the revitalization of linguistic communities and the promotion of multilingualism.[47]

Ekushey Heritage Award[edit]

Four photos of people holding plaques
Recipients of the 2015 BHESA Ekushey Heritage Award

The annual Ekushey Heritage Award, introduced in 2014 by the Bangladesh Heritage and Ethnic Society of Alberta (BHESA), recognizes outstanding achievement in fields such as education, social work and community service. The award is announced on International Mother Language Day.[48][49][39]

Ekushey Youth Award[edit]

The Ekushey Youth Award, introduced in 2015 by Alberta's Mahinur Jahid Memorial Foundation (MJMF) and announced on IMLD, is awarded annually to recipients who inspire youth in the fields of education, sports, youth activities, literature, and community service. The award is open Alberta residents.[50]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The General Conference proclaim"International Mother Language Day" to be observed on 21 February". 16 November 1999. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  2. ^ "A/RES/56/262 - e - A/RES/56/262 -Desktop".
  3. ^ "A/RES/61/266 - e - A/RES/61/266 -Desktop".
  4. ^ "International Mother Language Day, 21 February". Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  5. ^ "Links to documents". 9 September 2002. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  6. ^ Ingles. Cuerpo de Maestros. Temario Para la Preparacion de Oposiciones .e-book,. MAD-Eduforma. 25 September 2006. pp. 97–. ISBN 978-84-665-6253-9.
  7. ^ Rahim, Abdur (19 September 2014). Canadian Immigration and South Asian Immigrants. Xlibris Corporation. pp. 102–. ISBN 978-1-4990-5874-1.
  8. ^ "International Mother Language Day Celebration". 4 October 2018. Archived from the original on 13 February 2019. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  9. ^ UNB, Dhaka (21 February 2021). "Nation paying tributes to language heroes". The Daily Star. Retrieved 14 August 2021.
  10. ^ "People Sacrificed Their Lives So You Can Speak Your Language Today: The Story behind International Mother Language Day 21st February - Vocabridge - Language Translation Services Company - London, UK". Vocabridge - Translation and Localisation Solutions. Retrieved 14 August 2021.
  11. ^ "International Mother Language Day at Wellesley". Wellesley College. Retrieved 14 August 2021.
  12. ^ "Language Martyrs Day today". Language Martyrs Day today | Archived from the original on 14 August 2021. Retrieved 14 August 2021.
  13. ^ "International Mother Language Day". United Nations. Archived from the original on 22 February 2013. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  14. ^ Roger Gwynn, Tony: the Life of Tozammel Huq MBE, Acre Press, 2019
  15. ^ Islam, Syed Manzoorul (1994). Essays on Ekushey: The Language Movement 1952 (in Bengali). Dhaka: Bangla Academy. ISBN 984-07-2968-3.
  16. ^ "Languages in Education | Education | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization". Archived from the original on 9 November 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  17. ^ "International Mother Language Day". British Council. 6 February 2020. Archived from the original on 13 February 2021. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  18. ^ "UNESCO-designated International Mother Language Day 2006 Theme: Languages and Cyberspace". SIL International. 21 February 2006. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  19. ^ "SIL celebrates International Mother Language Day 2007". SIL International. 24 February 2007. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  20. ^ "International Mother Language Day, 21 February 2013". UNESCO Bangkok. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  21. ^ "International Mother Language Day 2014". SIL International. 13 February 2014. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  22. ^ "International Mother Language Day Celebration 2015". 24 December 2014. Archived from the original on 13 February 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  23. ^ "International Mother Language Day 2015: Inclusion through education". SIL International. 20 February 2015. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  24. ^ "2016 International Mother Language Day: Quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes". SIL International. 17 February 2016. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  25. ^ "International Mother Language Day 2017 | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization". Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  26. ^ 2019 - International Year of Indigenous Languages UNESCO
  27. ^ "2020 International Mother Language Day". 25 February 2020. Retrieved 2 February 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  28. ^ "Celebration of International Mother Language Day at UNESCO 19/02/2021 10:00 - 19/02/2021 12:30". Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  29. ^ "International Mother Language Day, 21 February 2022". UNESCO. 4 October 2018.
  30. ^ City TV, Diverse-City 02.25.14, YouTube, 25 February 2014, Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  31. ^ a b Karin, Riya; Islam, Shoha (20 February 2015). "Journey to Inclusion in & through Education: Language Counts" (PDF). Mother Language Magazine. Bangladesh PressClub Centre of Alberta (BPCA). p. 31. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 6 May 2015.
  32. ^ Professor Kabir Choudhury, "21st February: International Mother Language Day" Archived 2015-04-02 at the Wayback Machine, Bangladesh PressClub Centre of Alberta (BPCA), Published 20 February 2015 in the Mother Language Magazine 2015 (Page 34), Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  33. ^ "International Mother Language Day". 16 May 2007. Archived from the original on 7 July 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  34. ^ Jonathan and Prithwi Raj, Ekushe February (instrumental), YouTube, 21 February 2012, Retrieved 2015-05-06.
  35. ^ The Daily Star, 20 January 2019
  36. ^ "International Mother Language Day Act". Archived from the original on 7 January 2017. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  37. ^ "Bill C-573 (Historical)". 5 February 2014. Archived from the original on 3 April 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  38. ^ "iPage". Archived from the original on 16 August 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  39. ^ a b "Int'l Mother Language Day observed at Edmonton". Archived from the original on 7 August 2017. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  40. ^ "Ekushey observed with due respect in Edmonton". Retrieved 1 February 2020.
  41. ^ "भारतवाणी". भारतवाणी. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  42. ^ "International Mother Language Day: India to protect and promote 22 scheduled Indian languages through digitization of content". 21 February 2016. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  43. ^ "22 Indian scheduled languages to go digital on International Mother Language Day on Feb 21 | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis". 1 February 2016. Archived from the original on 10 March 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  44. ^ "Survey of London | Shaheed Minar". Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  45. ^ "Marking Martyrs' Day at home and online". Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  46. ^ "Bangla Stories - Oldham". Retrieved 14 March 2021.
  47. ^ "Inici - Linguapax Internacional". 28 April 2016. Archived from the original on 19 May 2015. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  48. ^ "Bangladesh Heritage and Ethnic Society of Alberta". Archived from the original on 22 August 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  49. ^ "International Mother Language Day observed at Edmonton, Canada". Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha. 28 February 2017. Archived from the original on 4 March 2017. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  50. ^ "Mahinur Jahid Memorial Foundation (MJMF) - Ekushey Youth Awards". Archived from the original on 24 June 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2016.

External links[edit]