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Mother Tongue in a Multilingual World – The Antonym Panel Discussion

Feb 20, 2021 | Front And Center, Non Fiction | 0 comments

The World speaks in many ways but that diversity of expression has been shrinking with time. In the year 2000 UNESCO adopted February 21st as the International Mother Language Day. It was a tribute to the historic movement of the Bengali people to protect their mother tongue in 1952. Today the day is observed around the globe in honor of their native tongues, to promote peace and multilingualism, and to protect mother languages. The recognition and celebration come with the growing awareness that languages cannot be confined within the boundaries of nations and cultures.

What happened in Bangladesh back in 1952 is of great significance. It highlighted how culture and heritage are tied deeply to language. Languages are the most powerful instruments of conserving and developing tangible and intangible heritage. In a world torn with wars and xenophobia promotion and propagation of mother tongues might be the only way forward to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions around the globe and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance, and dialogue.
Today the world speaks 7,117 languages . Of these only 23 languages are spoken by half of the world’s population. 43% of these languages are endangered. Language loss means loss of culture and heritage and the wisdom each of them uniquely holds.

2020 has been a turning point for all nations as they grappled with a raging pandemic that did not spare any culture, race, or language. Forced isolation turned a lot of us inwards and gave us the time to contemplate existential questions we tend to avoid. 2021 ushers in hope with new vaccines combatting the virus. But does it equip us with the newfound ability to separate the most important messages from the delirious noise around us? What do we want to say and in which language?

Here are some questions that we need answers to if we want to find ourselves again.

  1. What is a mother tongue? Why are mother tongues so important?
  2. What kind of impact do you think an increase in migration and globalization is having on mother tongues?
  3. What impact has modernization had on native languages? Has science and technology encouraged English to become the global lingua franca?
  4. When a language’s decline becomes significant, how does it impact art, music and theatre and other forms of cultural and custom?
  5. What can be done within the literary community to bring back the relevance of native languages?
  6. What role will English translations play in showcasing and popularizing native and regional language and literature?

The Antonym put together a  diverse panel  to discuss International Mother Language Day. Pina Piccolo and Lance Henson participates from Italy. Lucia Cupertino joins us from Chile. Sumitro Banerjee participates from India. Dipen Bhattacharya participates from California.

Sreya Sarkar

Sreya Sarkar

Sreya Sarkar is a public policy professional based out of Boston who has previously worked as a poverty alleviation specialist in U.S. think tanks. Currently, she writes non-fiction articles and  op-eds for Indian policy blogs and magazines.

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