Abu Dhabi: On Sunday, expats across the UAE marked International Mother Language Day to celebrate and honour the variety of tongues spoken in the country.
The occasion was originally commemorated in Bangladesh as a tribute to its language martyrs of 1952, and has been officially recognised by the United Nations since 1999.
In a formal ceremony, the Bangladeshi Ambassador to the UAE, Mohammad Abu Zafar, lowered the Bangladesh flag to half-mast at 8am. He and other officials, including Md Shahriar Alam, Bangladeshi State Minister for Foreign Affairs, then placed floral wreaths at a model of Dhaka’s Shaheed Minar (Martyr’s Monument), in keeping with official ceremonies in Bangladeshi.
“Today, we honour our mother tongue, and pay tribute to the language martyrs of Bangladesh. And on this internationally recognised occasion, we stress the need to protect and preserve the 6,000 different languages spoken across the world. Many of these languages are facing the threat of extinction today, but they are necessary drivers of people’s culture and identity,” Abu Zafar told Gulf News.
The occasion of International Mother Language Day dates back to February 21, 1952 when four university students participating in a Dhaka procession were killed after the police opened fire. The procession had called for Bengali to be recognised as one of the national languages of Pakistan, which was then divided into West Pakistan and East Pakistan, later Bangladesh. Following the incident, the day was immediately memorialised as Martyr’s Day in Bangladesh, and the associated respect for mother tongues was eventually venerated by the United Nations when it instated the International Mother Language Day about four decades later.
According to the United Nations, 43 per cent of the 6,000 languages spoken across the world are now endangered. International Mother Language Day is therefore observed every year to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism, which then go on to safeguard inclusion.
UAE language efforts
With the UAE being home to people of nearly 200 nationalities, residents in the country speak a diversity of tongues, and experts have called for people to preserve and honour their own languages. This veneration for languages is also in keeping with the UAE’s own efforts to safeguard Arabic, its primary official language.
Adel Al Rashid, prominent Emirati journalist and writer, encouraged people to take pride in their languages. “Strong nations and peoples should be proud of their languages, which help enshrine their history and resilience. We in the UAE must be especially proud of Arabic, the language of the Qur’an, and a language that has led to scientific advancement and growth. This respect for our mother tongue was evident when the UAE government mandated that official communications must be carried out in Arabic, and our youth must work to protect this integral part of our identity,” he said.