1. Home
  2. Blog
  3. Mother languages - a treasure of humanity

Mother languages – a treasure of humanity 

16 February 2018

Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, in Winnipeg, 2016.

Language is at the core of our identity as people, members of a family, and nations; it provides the underpinnings to our relationship to culture, the land, spirituality and the intellectual life of a nation

- First Peoples’ Cultural Council

International Mother Language Day, celebrated at the initiative of UNESCO since 2000, takes place on February 21 every year. The date recalls the tragic events in Bangladesh in 1952 when a demonstration for the right to speak Bengali was suppressed with lethal force. This struggle became the symbol of all movements that advocate for equality and the right to speak one’s mother tongue. (For more information on this topic, please read the account by Bangla Caravan).

Endangered languages

As of 2018, there are more than 6,000 living languages in the world. Of these, 80 are currently being used as a mother tongue by 80 per cent of the world’s population; the remaining 20 per cent of people therefore speak a total of more than 5,900 languages. English is the mother tongue of 1.5 billion people, followed by Mandarin Chinese (1 billion) and Spanish (567 million). The sixth most popular mother language is French, spoken by 274 million.

According to some experts, if current trends continue, in 100 years, only 200 languages will be spoken in the world. And in 200 years, humanity will be left with no more than 100 different languages.

The situation of Indigenous languages in Canada

There are approximately 78 different Indigenous languages in Canada (the exact figure varies depending on the classification method used). These languages differ considerably from one end of the country to the other in numbers of speakers and transmission to future generations. Some Indigenous languages are considered to be flourishing while others are declining or on the verge of extinction. Yet, language is the key channel for transmitting culture – it shapes our view of the world and establishes peoples’ identity. Many Indigenous organizations throughout Canada have suggested innovative ways of ensuring that Indigenous languages and cultures flourish.

We invite you to discover some of these ways:

Preserving diversity

The theme for International Mother Language Day in 2018 is preserving linguistic diversity and promoting multilingualism – in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. To do so, learners need to have access to education in their mother language as well as in other languages. It is through mastery of their first language – usually their mother tongue – that they can acquire the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy.

Call for action

On February 21, we invite you to celebrate International Mother Language Day with us by sharing a greeting in your mother tongue on our Facebook and Twitter social media platforms.

We also invite you to make one or more of these easy, small gestures that can make a difference:

  • Learn whose territory you live on. Learn the name of the Nation and the name of the language.
  • Learn a simple greeting in the language of that territory.
  • Tell your family and friends what you have learned.
  • Visit the Endangered Languages Project to learn more.
  • If you are near a university or other public post-secondary institution, see if they offer courses in an Indigenous language, or about Indigenous languages.
  • Tag Indigenous cultures
  • Tag Cultural inclusion
  • Tag Indigenous languages
  • Tag Diversity